Amendment on Needle Exchange Program Worries AIDS Activists

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009; 6:35 PM

AIDS activists are concerned that a proposed amendment to the District's federal appropriation for 2010 would drastically reduce public funding for needle exchange programs and take away a weapon in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), would prohibit the city from using federal funds to distribute needles for the "injection of illegal drugs . . . within 1,000 feet of a public or private day care center, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, university, public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade or youth center."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) urged her colleagues to fight the amendment which is before the full House this afternoon. A companion bill in the Senate does not contain language that would prohibit the use of federal tax dollars for needle exchange.

The House Appropriations committee approved the bill July 7. Kingston and his staff could not be reached for comment to explain why he sponsored the amendment.

The threat to limit the District's needle exchange program comes only two years after Congress lifted a ban against the practice in June 2007.

"For too long, Congress has unfairly imposed on the citizens of D.C. by trying out their social experiments there," Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said at the time. "The ban on needle exchanges was one of the most egregious of these impositions, especially because the consensus is clear that these programs save lives."

The city has devoted $700,000 in the past year to four non-profit organizations with needle exchange programs: PreventionWorks!, Bread for the City, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive and the Family Medical and Counseling Service.

Bread for the City provides about 330 clean needles to nearly 20 participants monthly, said George A. Jones, the executive director. In exchange, the organization collects about 250 dirty needles.

"It could put our program in jeopardy," Jones said. "If they're talking about recreation centers, we have one a block away. There are two day care centers within a block and a half. It would be a shame, because when people come to exchange needles, we're able to send them to a network of other services that sometimes lead to sobriety. Obviously, this is a very hard to reach population."

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