Congress is considering legislation that would permit Washington D.C. to use city money to fund a needle exchange. The Washington Post weighs in today:
HIV-AIDS IS laying waste to Washington. The District has one of the worst infection rates in the country, and intravenous drug use is one of the primary modes of transmission. Yet the District — unlike any other jurisdiction in the country — is prohibited by Congress from using its own money to fund a needle-exchange program. Yesterday, Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) took the first step toward ending this nuttiness.
The ban has been in place since 1998. That’s when Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) succeeded in getting it attached to a bill governing the District’s budget. With the Republicans in control, the prohibition on the District spending its own funds for needle-exchange programs survived every attempt to excise it from the House appropriations bill. But the Democrats are in charge now. Mr. Serrano, as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, which doles out federal money to the District, stripped the ban from legislation that passed unanimously yesterday. The action now moves to the full Appropriations Committee and then to the floor of the House, where opponents are expected to try to reinstate the prohibition.
“I do not dispute that drug addiction is a very real problem in this and other cities,” Mr. Tiahrt told us via e-mail yesterday, “but [needle-exchange programs] have been proven in many studies to be ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially to children.” Yes, drug addiction is such a problem that there are now more than 210 syringe-swapping programs in 36 states. They constitute but one weapon in an arsenal of measures to help stem the tide of people converting from HIV-negative to HIV-positive. And they make it easier for outreach workers to talk to users about their addictions and then to get them into treatment.
The District is cautiously optimistic. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini told us that two departments (Human Services and Health) are beginning to work on a series of needle-exchange program options for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to consider. If all goes well, the District would be able to get something up and running for fiscal 2008. Congress should let it happen.