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Needle-Exchange Programs Experiencing Local Budget Cuts, Federal Funding Ban Despite Research Showing Programs' Effectiveness

March 13, 2007

Although a "growing body of research" shows that needle-exchange programs help reduce the spread of HIV without increasing drug use, local budget cuts and a federal funding ban for such programs in the U.S. and overseas are hampering the programs at a time when injection drug use is playing a major role in the HIV/AIDS pandemic, advocates say, the AP/USA Today reports. CDC data through 2005 show that about one-fourth of the approximately 950,000 cumulative AIDS cases in the U.S. involved injection drug use, the AP/USA Today reports. Former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala determined in 1998 after the release of several studies that needle-exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV and do not encourage the use of illegal drugs. The programs also seek to link IDUs with treatment. However, critics say needle-exchange programs promote risky behavior and undermine efforts to fight drug abuse. "Funding for needle-exchange programs in the United States has always been difficult because the governmental bodies have never wanted to support what they see as a morally slippery intervention," Peter Havens of the Medical College of Wisconsin said. A needle-exchange program in New Haven, Conn., was "touted as a national model" after a Yale University professor in the early 1990s was among the first to document the relationship between needle-exchange programs and reduced HIV transmission. According to AP/USA Today, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell's (R) proposed state budget would remove about $100,000 from the $500,000 spent on needle-exchange programs in New Haven, Hartford, Danbury, Stamford and Bridgeport. Officials said that the reduction in funding would make it difficult to operate the New Haven program and could result in the closure of some of the other programs. Rell spokesperson Rich Harris said, "What the governor has had to do is make some choices about where she is going to spend limited state resources." Needle-exchange programs have grown slowly in other states nationwide through private and state funding, and there are nearly 200 such programs nationwide. Physicians for Human Rights last week held congressional briefings to garner support for needle-exchange programs and other initiatives to prevent the spread of HIV among IDUs. PHR also is advocating for the U.S. to lift constraints on programs receiving U.S. funding so they can work with needle exchange programs funded by other donors (Christoffersen, AP/USA Today, 3/12).

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