New Law Allows Needle Exchanges in Washington
WASHINGTON — President Bush signed legislation on Wednesday lifting a ban that for nearly a decade has prevented city officials here from using local tax money for needle exchange programs.
Officials of the District of Columbia Health Department said that with the ban lifted, they would allocate $1 million for such programs in 2008.
Since 1999, the nation’s capital, which reports having the highest rate of AIDS infection of any major city in the country, has been the only city barred by federal law from using municipal money for needle exchanges. A recent report by the city showed that intravenous drug users’ sharing of needles was second only to unprotected sex as a leading cause of H.I.V. transmission.
Congress controls local government here, and for nine years members of the House, expressing concerns about worsening drug abuse, had inserted into the bill approving the city’s budget a provision to prohibit financing needle exchange programs. But with Republicans’ loss of Congressional control to Democrats, this year’s bill, signed by Mr. Bush on Wednesday, reversed the ban.
“For too long, Congress has unfairly imposed on the citizens of D.C. by trying out their social experiments there,” said Representative José E. Serrano, the New York Democrat who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles the city’s 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.”