President Bush signed an omnibus spending bill today that includes a provision that lifts a nine-year ban that has prohibited the nation’s capital from spending its own (non-federal) money on syringe exchange programs. Elimination of this ban clears the way for the Government of the District of Columbia to proceed with plans to infuse $1 million into local syringe exchange efforts.
Lifting the local funding ban could not have come at a more critical time. A DC government authored report released in late November determined that Washington, DC has the highest HIV/AIDS rate of all cities in the nation. Moreover, nearly 21% of all cases of HIV transmission in the District are due to injection drug use.
The local funding ban on syringe exchange in Washington, DC was originally imposed in 1998 by the Republican-led Congress. This ban was maintained in annual appropriations to DC until Democrats regained control of Congress this year. Efforts to repeal the local funding ban gained traction this summer when Congressman Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the Financial Services Subcommittee, and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spearheaded the effort to lift the ban, and ultimately dropped it from annual appropriations for the District. Subsequently, the House rejected an attempt by Congressman Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) in June to reinstitute a modified ban that would have had a chilling effect on the existing needle exchange program in DC.
"We hope repealing the DC syringe ban is just the first step," said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress and the President also need to repeal the national ban that prohibits states from using their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs. The national ban is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans."
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the 415,193 persons reported to be living with AIDS in the U.S. at the end of 2004, at least 30% of cases were related to injection drug use. About 12,000 Americans contract HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly from the sharing of dirty syringes each year. About 17,000 contract hepatitis C.
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