Addict (drugaddict) wrote,
Addict
drugaddict

The House yesterday lifted a nine-year-old ban on using D.C. tax dollars to provide clean needles to

Advocates say providing clean needles to addicts lessens the chance that they will share dirty ones, potentially passing on HIV and other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis. Intravenous drug users make up about one-third of the District's new AIDS cases annually.

House Repeals Needle Ban
Decision on Funding Thrills D.C. Officials Fighting the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 29, 2007; B01

 

The House yesterday lifted a nine-year-old ban on using D.C. tax dollars to provide clean needles to drug addicts, handing city leaders what they consider a crucial new weapon against a severe AIDS epidemic.

The change reflects how Democrats are trying to use their new majority status in Congress to give the District somewhat greater autonomy. Congress has traditionally used its budget power over the city to flex its muscles on such local issues as gun control and abortion.

Democrats also tried yesterday to abolish a prohibition on using federal money for the city's domestic-partner registry. The attempt failed. The development will have little practical effect because the city uses its own funds for that program, officials said.

The needle-exchange and domestic-partner items were part of a $21 billion funding bill for the next fiscal year that covered more than two dozen federal agencies as well as the District. The bill includes more than $650 million for District schools, courts, libraries and other institutions.

"For too long, Congress has unfairly imposed on the citizens of D.C. by trying out their social experiments there," said Rep. Jose E. Serrano, (D-N.Y.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles the D.C. budget. "The ban on needle exchanges was one of the most egregious of these impositions, especially because the consensus is clear that these programs save lives."

The bill goes to the Senate, which is likely to make some revisions but is not expected to reverse the decision on needle exchange.

The House action comes as the city is pressing for more rights on several fronts. Legislation to give the District its first voting member of Congress has passed the House and is in the Senate. In addition, a House subcommittee recently passed bills that would provide the city greater legislative and budget autonomy.

Local officials were jubilant over the lifting of the ban. D.C. Health Director Gregg A. Pane said his department would commit $1 million toward needle-exchange programs for 2008.

"It's a landmark day," he said, "something folks in D.C. have worked for for many, many years."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who had lobbied her party's leadership for the change, said scrapping the rider from the budget bill was critical for a city that has one of the country's worst HIV/AIDS rates.

"It is the only rider that has ever had life-or-death consequences," she said.

Advocates say providing clean needles to addicts lessens the chance that they will share dirty ones, potentially passing on HIV and other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis. Intravenous drug users make up about one-third of the District's new AIDS cases annually.

"The science shows it's the right thing to do," Pane said. More than 210 such programs are in place in 36 states. About half receive local or state funding, according to the North American Syringe Exchange Network.

The White House opposed lifting the needle ban, as did many Republicans and some Democrats. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) offered an amendment to restore the prohibition, saying that needle-exchange programs "merely subsidize heroin use."

That amendment was defeated 216 to 208.

Souder squared off on the House floor against Serrano, who accused opponents of treating the District like a colony.

"You would not be able to present this kind of an approach anywhere else except when it comes to dealing with the District of Columbia, because it is, for all intents and purposes, a territory or colony," Serrano said, adding that he hoped to change such attitudes.

Souder countered that the District was a unique entity by constitutional design.

"When we take large sums of money from our districts that then gets used in policies in our national capital . . . then we do have some obligation to the taxpayers in our district and to our nation" to supervise those funds, he said.

Souder said he opposed needle-exchange programs anywhere, not just in the District.

"It is not compassionate to enable addicts to continue their addiction. What we need to do is get them off," Souder said. And such programs have had mixed results, he added.

A significant amount of the District's 2008 funding of needle-exchange programs is expected to go to the nonprofit PreventionWorks!, the only group doing such work in the city since the ban took effect. The organization's private funding has often been tenuous, limiting its growth and impact, according to Executive Director Paola Barahona. Last year, the organization passed out more than 236,00 needles.

"I can't believe it," Barahona exulted yesterday. "It's been so long. Finally, finally, public health overcomes politics."

Her group might be able to double the number of people served, to at least 4,000 users, by summer 2008, she said. "We've had plans for years. We could go for immediate expansion."

In a statement, the Drug Policy Alliance noted that the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed needle-exchange programs as critical to reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS without increasing drug use. Many such programs also urge treatment to overcome addiction.

The legislation considered by the House yesterday also sought to lift another prohibition on the District: a ban on the use of federal funds for the city's domestic-partner registry. Supporters said the move was symbolic because no federal funds were available for the registry.

The White House was so opposed to that provision that it threatened to veto the entire spending bill. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.) offered an amendment reinstating the ban. It passed 224 to 200.

"The U.S. House of Representatives should be on record supporting traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and oppose alternative definitions of marriage," Goode said.

Gay and lesbian groups criticized the veto threat.

"With his popularity at an all-time low, this president has yet again dipped his cup into the well of anti-gay bigotry," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign.

The District's domestic-partner registry allows cohabiting couples to be treated the same way as married people for such things as hospital visits or city employee benefits. About 800 people are registered, according to local officials, who say the program is maintained with a small amount of city money.

Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 0 comments