City to Spend $650,000 on Needle Exchange Programs

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

The District will invest $650,000 in needle exchange programs to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS in the wake of Congress's decision to end a ban on the city's use of public money for such efforts, D.C. officials said yesterday.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and several D.C. Council members said the funding was an important step in a larger effort to reduce the rate of infection among residents. The city has one of the highest rates in the nation: One in 20 residents is thought to have HIV, and 1 in 50 residents is believed to have AIDS, according to a study released in November.

Needle exchange programs allow participants to trade used syringes for new ones.

"This program goes to best practices to combat one of our greatest health problems," Fenty said at a news conference at the headquarters of PreventionWorks!, which operates a needle exchange program and will receive a $300,000 city grant. The remaining $350,000 will go toward developing additional needle exchange programs, Fenty said.

For a decade, Congress had barred the city from using public money for such programs, which can be controversial because the syringes are used to inject drugs such as heroin. Congress removed the ban during its recent passage of an omnibus appropriations bill.

Ken Vail of PreventionWorks! estimated that his organization serves about 2,000 people at 12 locations in the city and exchanged 200,000 syringes last year.

In a news release hailing the announcement, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said, "The District's AIDS rate is artificially elevated" because of the previous congressional ban. "Now we have a lot of catching up to do."

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Health, said the public investment will pay off in the long run if the program is successful. "The cost of infection is immeasurably higher in terms of dollars and lives," Catania said.

Shannon Hader, head of the District's HIV-AIDS Administration, said she expects the city to foster new needle exchange programs that could take several forms, including mobile clinics and outreach and fixed-site programs.

Asked how he would respond to residents who object to such programs in their neighborhoods, Fenty said everyone should "be concerned" about the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

The 120-page report released in November found that HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37 percent of the District's cases detected during that period, compared with the 25 percent of cases attributable to men having sex with other men.

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