The Politics of Needle Exchange

A Proven System of HIV Prevention but Politics Is Getting In The Way

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According to statistics in January, 1998, more than one third of all HIV infections were directly or indirectly related to intravenous drug use. In an effort to decrease that number, needle exchange programs are being put into place across the country. The goal is to decrease the transmission of HIV among intravenous drug users who share needles and syringes. In 1997 alone, over 17 million syringes were exchanged toward that end.

The HIV Risk Associated With Injecting Drugs

When he was in office, President Clinton shared with reporters the results of a study that showed needle exchange does help reduce HIV transmission and doesn't contribute to increased drug use. The Administration had stated that it would encourage the expansion of needle exchange programs across the country. Still, President Clinton reminded us that Federal funds would not be used for needle exchange programs of any type. This in the face of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala's statement that

  • "we have concluded that needle exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program, will decrease the transmission of HIV and will not encourage the use of illegal drugs."
So why the hypocritical stance on such an important issue?

Needle Exchange Dose Work - The Statistics Prove It

It's a fact that Federal funding of needle exchange programs is not permitted by law.

Because of this, local communities have been supporting their programs with private, state and local funding. As the need for such programs continues to grow, its obvious that Federal funding will be needed or such programs with die. And the reason the feds won't fund these programs? Simply put, their decision is based not on scientific proof but on politics.

What Needle Exchange Should Be Funded

The reason to support Federal funding is obvious. The benefits of needle exchange programs has been documented. However, the rational for keeping Federal money out of the programs is based on the short sided beliefs of politicians who don't want to stir the political pot. Republicans claim that supplying syringes sends the wrong messages to our children and will encourage a rise in drug use. In fact, a study in New York showed that needle exchange not only decreased HIV transmission but also decreased heroin use. It appears, their greatest fear is that supporting such a policy would cut into their voter base. In other words, its a matter of job security.

Without Needle Exchange Make Sure You Disinfect Your Needles and Syringes

So what can we do? We must let our Senators and House Representatives know our feelings on this matter. Write letters, make calls, and most importantly show your legislators that your vote counts. Without the concerted effort of all of us, communities will struggle to support the programs that now exist.

Starting new programs and maintaining those that exist today will become harder than ever. And while the politicians bicker and debate the HIV epidemic will continue to grow.

The Truth Hurts - HIV Data & Statistics

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