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Health and Human Rights Advocates Call for Repeal of Syringe Funding Ban


More than 140 organizations involved in HIV and viral hepatitis advocacy, public health, harm reduction, and human rights sent an open letter last week calling on legislators to lift the federal ban on funding for needle and syringe exchange programs intended to curb the transmission of blood-borne diseases among people who inject drugs.

Numerous studies have shown that providing clean needles and other injection equipment is associated with reduced rates of HIV and hepatitis B and C among drug users and their partners, while not increasing drug use. Congress first banned the use of using federal funds for syringe programs in the late 1980s. President Obama lifted the ban in 2009, but legislators reinstated it as part of an appropriations bill 2 years later. Efforts to repeal the ban since then have not been successful.

Local, state, national, and international groups focused on a wide variety of issues signed on to the open letter to House and Senate leaders, including the Treatment Action Group,San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, GMHC, Housing Works, NASTAD, ACRIA, amfAR, National Minority AIDS Council, American Academy of HIV Medicine, HIV Medicine Association, Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, and the United Methodist Church.

Below is an edited excerpt from a Drug Policy Alliance press release describing the letter.

Over 140 Community, National and International Organizations Call on Congress to Lift Syringe Funding Ban

  • Syringe Ban Hampering Local Community Efforts to Address Heroin Use and Reduce Diseases Such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C
  • Hundreds of Thousands of Lives and Billions of Dollars Have Been Lost As a Result of Decades-Old Ban

Washington, DC -- June 27, 2014. Earlier today, more than 140 local, national and international organizations released a lettercalling on Congress to end the archaic federal funding ban on syringe service programs (SSPs). The ban was put in place in 1988, repealed in 2009, and reinstated by Congress in 2011. The signatories include over 80 prominent organizations from 26 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, in addition to dozens of national and international organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Human Rights Campaign. The letter is released to coincide with National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), which takes place today.

The letter addresses Senators Barbara Mikulski and Tom Harkin, as well as Congressmen Hal Rogers and Jack Kingston. Mikulski, Harkin, Rogers, and Kingston all hold leadership positions in the Senate and House appropriations committees, putting them in a position to repeal the harmful ban. The letter states that, "Making SSPs available is an essential component of a comprehensive, public health approach to the heroin crisis, especially because they connect users to drug treatment and health care, overdose prevention, and provide vital tools and education that have been shown to save lives."

Communities believe that the syringe program funding ban strips "public health professionals in our communities…of their expert judgment and effectiveness by being denied existing federal support for a tool that prevents the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, reduces injuries to law enforcement and first responders, and saves public sector resources," according to the letter. Other benefits of SSPs include a narrower health gap between ethnicities and fewer used syringes discarded in public. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that there is no link between SSPs and increased drug use.

According to Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance, "The letter is a clear signal to Congress that local communities want the ban lifted so that they can tackle the public health crises that these communities are suffering. Congress’s insistence in keeping the ban in place is yet another example of how Washington is out of touch with the needs of the American people."

In the U.S., injection drug use has accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of AIDS cases -- more than 354,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet the U.S. bans federal funding for sterile syringe access programs, even though the CDC has found that such programs lower incidence of HIV/AIDS among people who inject drugs by 80 percent.  This refusal to adopt an evidence-based prevention strategy has cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

In countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won. New HIV infections in countries such as Australia, Germany and Switzerland have been virtually eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child HIV transmission has been eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible.

As Congress goes through the appropriations process for its FY15 budget, it has the opportunity to lift the federal funding ban so that states may choose freely choose how to address this public health issue.

Read the full letter here.



Drug Policy Alliance. Over 140 Community, National and International Organizations Call on Congress to Lift Syringe Funding Ban. Press release. June 27, 2014.