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Opinion Pieces Address Federal Funding Ban On Domestic, Global Health Spending For Needle-Exchange Programs

The FY12 Appropriations Agreement recently passed by Congress includes reinstatements of bans on the domestic and international use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs, the Haiwai’i News Daily reports (Smith, 12/20). The following summarizes several opinion and blog pieces on the issue.

  • Art Caplan, MSNBC.com’s “Vitals“: The belief that “[g]iving out free clean needles sends the message that injecting drugs is OK … just happens to be completely unsupported by any evidence at all,” Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania writes, adding, “Policy involves more than scientific evidence when it comes to touchy subjects like drug addiction. However, morality cannot ignore the facts.” He concludes, “If needle-exchange programs do reduce risk, suffering, deaths and costs, and it is beyond dispute that they do, then it is bad ethics to insist on a moral message that is utterly disconnected from the harsh realities of drug abuse” (12/19).
  • Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune: The reinstatement of the funding ban is “a triumph of ideology over experience, and it would be a tragedy in practice. Needle exchanges have saved lives. Reviving the prohibition would have a sure effect: killing people,” Tribune columnist Chapman writes (12/16).
  • Zoe Hudson, Open Society Foundations’ “Open Society” blog: “Unfortunately, the reinstatement of the funding ban deals a lethal blow to HIV programs that are proven to work,” Hudson, senior policy analyst with the Open Society Institute-Washington, D.C., writes, concluding, “Twelve percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. are among injection drug users. We could bring that number to zero — and help people access treatment for addiction at the same time. But the Congress chooses not to” (12/16).
  • Maia Szalavitz, TIME’s “Healthland” blog: “There’s still hope that the ban could be lifted at the last minute, but the fact that needle exchange, a cheap, effective lifesaver, still remains a political football is profoundly depressing to me. Not only do opponents of needle-exchange programs misunderstand the data on their effectiveness, but they also fail to understand the invaluable message of empowerment and hope that such programs actually send,” Szalavitz, a TIME health writer and recovered drug user, writes, concluding, “Instead, the ban tells people with addictions: Keep using, kill yourself and possibly your loved ones, too, because nobody cares” (12/16).
  • Laura Thomas, AlterNet: “Reinstating the ban is murderous. It’s saying that people who use drugs should contract fatal and expensive diseases and die,” Thomas, deputy state director, San Francisco, at the Drug Policy Alliance, writes, adding, “The leadership who allowed this to go forward, knowing that the research is unanimous, knowing that these programs protect our communities, knowing that they bring people into health care and substance misuse treatment, are also at fault.” She says “this is a truly shameful moment, when we go backward, instead of forward, and let a politics of ignorance, of stigma, of hate, win out over compassion, science, and a desire for a healthy community” (12/16).