You Can Make a Difference
Several months ago my colleague Naomi Long and I had an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for a repeal of the federal prohibition that blocks states from using their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs. We had a hard-hitting conclusion: “As many as 300,000 Americans could contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C over the next decade because of a lack of access to sterile syringes. This essentially makes the national syringe ban a death sentence for drug users, their partners and children.”
Last year my colleague Jasmine Tyler lost her father to HIV/AIDS that he contracted from injection drug use and it really hit our D.C. office hard. She had this to share: “From the time he found out he was HIV-positive until the day he died in April of 2007, he suffered greatly and so did our family. Every day I know that the hell he lived through could have been avoided if only he had had access to sterile needles all the time. It’s too late to bring him back, but every other life that can be saved should be.”
While our country spends billions of dollars on efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, the U.S. prohibits the use of prevention funds to support syringe exchange programs. This robs cities, states and private organizations of the right to do what’s best for the people, and costs taxpayers a lot of money. It’s far cheaper to distribute syringes and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis than it is to treat people who contract those infectious diseases after it's too late.
Last year, District of Columbia Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and New York Congressman Jose Serrano successfully repealed a federal ban that prohibited D.C. from spending its own budget money on syringe exchange programs. This week Rep. Serrano introduced a bill that would repeal the national syringe funding ban. If enacted, it could save hundreds of thousands of lives and millions in taxpayer dollars. Please urge your representative to support this urgent, life-saving bill.
Want to do more? Set up a meeting with your representative when he or she is in your district during Congress's August recess. Learn how.
Director of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance
--According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the 415,193 people reported to be living with AIDS in the United States at the end of 2004, about 30 percent of cases are related to injection drug use, either directly (sharing contaminated syringes) or indirectly (having sex with someone who used a contaminated syringe or being born to a mother who used a contaminated syringe).
--Each year, approximately 12,000 Americans contract HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly from the sharing of dirty syringes. About 17,000 people contract hepatitis C.
--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Moreover, seven federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.
--Increasing the availability of sterile syringes through exchange programs, pharmacies and other outlets reduces unsafe injection practices such as syringe sharing, curtails transmission of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, increases safe disposal of used syringes, and helps injection drug users obtain drug education and treatment.
--The lifetime cost of treating just one person who contracts HIV/AIDS can be as high as $600,000. This cost is often borne by taxpayers. In contrast, syringe exchange programs can prevent thousands of new HIV/AIDS cases at very little cost. Funding syringe exchange programs saves both lives and taxpayer money.
--A federal appropriations rider in the annual Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies spending bill prohibits states from spending their share of federal prevention money on syringe exchange programs. H.R. 6680 would repeal that provision.