Although HIV cases among Hispanics and blacks in the U.S. are "increasing at a dangerous rate," the federal government is "ignoring a simple, effective step" of allowing federal funding for needle-exchange programs, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Serrano writes that it is time "to move past stale arguments and change this federal policy," adding, "While we strive to help people overcome drug addiction, we must also help them avoid HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases." More than 300,000 HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. at the end of 2006 were linked to injection drug use, according to the opinion piece.
A fiscal year 2008 spending bill passed last year lifted a ban on city funding for needle-exchange programs in Washington, D.C., according to Serrano, who adds, "I believe that this was both a home-rule issue and a positive public health initiative." During debate on the bill, Serrano writes that "critics trotted out the tired claim" that needle-exchange programs encourage drug use, adding that the "facts do not support this claim." Needle-exchange programs "provide opportunities to reduce drug use" and "work as a gateway to other forms of intervention," Serrano writes, adding that federal funding for the programs would save taxpayer money. An HIV-positive person's average lifetime health costs are estimated at $618,900, and clean syringes cost about eight cents each, Serrano writes.
Serrano writes that he recently introduced a bill (HR 6680) that would remove all restrictions on the use of federal funding for needle-exchange programs in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV. Serrano writes that he is "not suggesting" that funding exchange programs would end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., "but there is no doubt that it would be an integral part of a comprehensive response." Serrano writes that the federal government should fund effective prevention programs, adding, "We must not let ideology stand in our way" (Serrano, Washington Post, 8/29).
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