Congressional Republicans Lift Funding Restrictions On Needle Exchange Programs

By Victoria Kim 01/12/16

In a surprising, but quiet move, the GOP took a step toward common sense in battling addiction and the spread of disease.

The Capitol Building

In late December, Republicans in Congress pushed through a repeal of federal funding restrictions on state and local needle exchange programs, lifting a lot of financial pressure off these groups.

The repeal, which was passed through the end of the year omnibus spending measure, was passed by Congress with virtually no fanfare, BuzzFeed reports. On Dec. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a statement online that somehow slipped under the radar until after the New Year describing how needle exchange programs are now able to receive federal funds.

Needle exchange programs can now use federal funding to pay for staff, vans, gas, rent—everything but the syringes, Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, associate dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California at San Diego, told BuzzFeed. This partial repeal is “basically a giant work around” to conservative opposition to needle exchanges, said Dr. Strathdee.

But since the syringes themselves cost almost nothing, it is a victory regardless.

In the CDC statement from December, Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the agency’s director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, acknowledged that “studies have shown that syringe services programs are cost saving, and can reduce the risk of infection without increasing drug use.”

The repeal was a reaction to recent HIV/AIDS outbreaks across the United States, especially in Indiana, where Governor Mike Pence declared a state of emergency in March 2015. The outbreaks, largely spread by intravenous drug use and spurred on by the heroin epidemic, are “powerful reminders that people who inject drugs can be at very high risk for HIV and hepatitis C,” wrote Dr. Mermin.

“CDC has historically recommended that states ensure people who inject drugs have access to integrated prevention services from a reliable source, including sterile injection equipment, opioid therapy, and HIV and hepatitis testing,” wrote Dr. Mermin. “Congress’s decision makes that job easier.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr