December 18, 2009
The repeal of the 20-year-old ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs marks a crucial, lifesaving step forward for HIV prevention. As HIV clinicians and researchers, we applaud Congress for approving the appropriations bill including this repeal, and we thank President Obama for quickly signing this legislation into law. After two decades, states and communities, including our nation's capital, will now finally be able to use federal funding -- if they choose -- for needle exchange programs as part of their broader efforts to limit the spread of HIV and hepatitis infections.
The science could not be more clear: Needle exchange programs are cost effective, save lives, and do not promote drug use. They connect hard-to-reach populations to primary care and to the addiction treatment they need. Up to 16 percent of new HIV infections in this country are found among intravenous drug users, and they represent 20 percent of the more than 1 million people in the United States living with HIV/AIDS.
With an estimated 55,000 people newly infected with HIV every year in this country, we must use a full arsenal of evidence-based measures, including needle exchange programs, to prevent new infections. The end of this misguided funding ban will allow these sorely needed and effective prevention efforts to move forward and save lives.