When Congressional Republicans rammed through their disastrous consolidated spending bill on Friday, subsidizing abstinence-only education and granting $2 billion per week for the war in Afghanistan, they also locked in a regressive funding cut that would endanger the lives of many thousands of Americans. The bill reinstates a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs - a ban that was repealed just two years ago, due to overwhelming evidence that the programs dramatically curb the spread of blood-transmitted diseases like HIV and hepatitis B.
Incredibly, when the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee announced the ban's first incarnation in September, it was listed under the heading "Protecting Life." Conservatives have long framed needle exchange as an incitement to drug use (naturally, if cheap, clean syringes are readily available, hordes of previously uninterested Americans will be inspired into heroin addiction) and a "dopey idea" that deters recovery.
"I am very concerned that we would use federal tax dollars to support the drug habits of people who desperately need help," argued former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas), the anti-needle-exchange warrior who rallied in favor of the ban each year until his recent retirement.
However, in pushing, and eventually passing, this tragic line item, Tiahrt and his cronies have conveniently ignored some glaring facts about needle exchange. For example, it works: all large-scale scientific studies have demonstrated the program's effectiveness in decreasing the spread of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. In fact, HIV rates among intravenous drug users in New York City dropped 75 percent over 10 years after needle exchange programs were implemented.