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Blunted needles
Congress is set to stick it to clean-syringe programs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PROGRAMS THAT allow drug addicts to swap their dirty needles for sterile syringes are effective in reducing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A 2008 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that an 80 percent reduction in the incidence of HIV in intravenous drug users over the past 20 years can be attributed in part to such programs funded by private organizations and localities. But Congress appears intent on gumming up the works.

At first glance, the congressional goings-on seem promising: The promise is to lift a 21-year-old ban on federal funding of needle-exchange programs. But the small print makes this promise all but worthless, because Congress would prohibit those programs from operating within 1,000 feet of a school, library, park, college, video arcade or any place where children might be present. In other words, just about anywhere.

Pending legislation is particularly punitive to the District. Just last year, Congress finally allowed the District the spend its own money on clean-needle programs. Now a bill would apply the same 1,000-foot restrictions to District programs both with federal money and with its own. This would effectively shut down the District's four needle-exchange programs.

Thank Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) for hobbling this city's efforts. He's "concerned for the safety of schoolchildren and the negative impact of sending them mixed messages when it comes to drug prevention," his spokesman told us. Mr. Kingston's concern doesn't jibe with the facts. The CDC, the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization concur that needle-exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV without increasing drug use.

The bills have already passed the House. It's now up to the Senate to strip the restrictions from the legislation. We urge it to do so. Cities need every resource at their disposal to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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