August 1, 2008
THREADING THE NEEDLE
The NEX ban belongs here
The Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act (H.R. 6680) would eliminate the HHS rider that prohibits federal funding for syringe exchange, allowing states and local jurisdictions to spend federal prevention dollars on syringe exchange, and also update other Congressional directives that prohibit funding for syringe exchange.
"The ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs is a relic of the War on Drugs that has become obsolete and must be done away with," Serrano said in a statement. "Scientists have proven that the programs do not increase drug use, but do reduce HIV and hepatitis infections among drug users. These are facts, not opinions. Based on them, the federal funding ban makes little sense, and, in fact is cruel as it relegates more people to suffering from these horrible diseases."
And with science trumping ideology, support for ending the ban is starting to become a bipartisan effort. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) signed on as a cosponsor after being persuaded by her constituent National Association of People with AIDS National Community Organizer Michael Rajner. At an event Tuesday Rajner asked her, "What are the chances of your supporting this bill and signing on as a lead sponsor?," Rajner said. According to Rajner, her response was "I'm flexible and rethinking my position." The next day, thanks to Rajner's persuasion, Ros-Lehtinen proved her flexibility signed on as a co-sponsor.
Other co-sponsors include Rep. Sam Farr, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Michael Honda, Rep. Betty McCollum, Rep. Eleanor Norton, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Edolphus Towns, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Rep. Jim Moran, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Jim McDermott, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Rep. William Delahunt, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Ed Pastor, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Rep. John Conyers, Rep. Henry Waxman, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. Wasserman-Schultz. All deserve a thank you.
If your representative is not on the list give him or her a call. Go to house.gov to find out who your U.S. congressperson is, then call the U.S. Congress switchboard at 800-828-0498 and ask to speak to his or her health staffer and urge your representative to cosponsor H.R. 6680!
More than 140 groups signed on to a letter supporting Serrano's bill.
Still work to do...
While there won't be much movement on the bill this session, advocates are still searching for a lead Senate sponsor (Hillary, now that you're not running for Prez anymore, you can make up for your former reluctance by sponsoring?).
In the 20 years since the ban was introduced, more than 200 cities and states have used their own money to fund syringe exchange. In the U.S. and in other countries, the evidence is overwhelming that syringe exchange reduces HIV and hepatitis infections without encouraging drug use. A review of data from 81 cities across Europe, Asia, and North America found that, on average, HIV prevalence increased by 5.9 percent per year in the 52 cities without syringe exchange programs and decreased by 5.8 percent per year in the 29 cities with syringe exchange programs.
Let's hope, the times, they are a changin'. During the Clinton administration there was a catastrophic uproar when HHS Secretary Donna Shalala attempted to lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange. But in the last ten years, the scientific evidence has mounted and the public opinion and media analysis has shifted. Last June, a bipartisan cohort of representatives voted to lift the prohibition of Washington, D.C. spending its own money on needle exchange.