Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Needle Exchange Programs

The House voted to end a 21-year-old ban and allow federal funding of needle exchange programs. It also voted to allow the District to use its own money for such a program. There's one catch: the programs cannot be located "within 1,000 feet of a public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade, or youth center, or an event sponsored by any such entity." This would render whole sections of cities off-limits. And it would effectively kill the District's one needle exchange program. None of this is a done deal. The Senate version of the bill doesn't have those onerous restrictions. When the House and Senate meet in conference committee to hash out the final legislation, this restrictive language must be removed.


Why has it taken 21 years to repeal this failed policy? How many lives have been lost and how much money has been squandered becasue of the irrational fears of a few legislators? Fact: it is far cheaper to fund needle exchange programs than it is to pay for the health costs of people who contract HIV/AIDS and other diseases while sharing needles. Fact: Needle exchange programs lower the rate of the spread of infection diseases. Fact: needle exchange programs do not promote the use of intravenous drug use. So once again, irrationality and ideology trump science and sound policy decisions. When will we ever learn?

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