Obama Hits Back at House Bill Banning Needle Exchanges in DC

By Dirk Hanson 07/14/11

An appropriations bill would bar funding of needle swaps even when “effective and appropriate.”

Cutting HIV and Hep C rates.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

After weeks of putting the smack down on medical marijuana, the White House has complained that a D.C. appropriations bill working its way toward a vote on the House floor would bar funding for needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia. The Obama administration argued that funding for needle exchanges, which allow heroin addicts and other injecting drug users to swap used needles for clean ones, is allowed in other regions. Administration officials did not say whether President Obama would veto the appropriations bill because of the limits on needle exchanges. “This is contrary to current practice and the Administration’s policy to allow funds to be used in locations where local authorities deem needle exchange programs to be effective and appropriate,” the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy.

In addition to cutting off federal (but not local) funds for needle exchanges, the bill would also “ban the city from spending its own money to provide abortions to low-income women,” according to the Washington Post. Needle exchange programs for injecting drug users have been shown to cut back on rates of HIV, as well as the far more infectious Hepatitis C. There can also be substantial savings in health costs. Jennifer Adams, a public health nurse at a needle exchange facility in Ontario, said that handing out a clean needle kit costs about $2, but to treat someone for a year with HIV can cost $150,000 or more.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]