More than a quarter century after the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs went into effect, it has quietly been almost completely lifted.
In 1988 the U.S. government instituted a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs for people who inject street drugs. Here’s a quote from an article in the July 1998 issue of Scientific American on HIV prevention:
“Access to clean needles can help protect those still using injection drugs. Exchange programs, despite the controversies they elicit, have been shown to lower the risk of viral infection in many studies worldwide. Six U.S. government–funded studies have found that needle exchanges help to reduce HIV transmission without leading to greater drug use.”
Later in the same piece: “Fears of encouraging drug abuse have proved unfounded: many studies have shown that needle availability does not increase the use of illegal drugs.”
The article was written by AIDS experts Thomas Coates and Chris Collins. I was their editor.
Now, more than a quarter century after the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs went into effect, it has quietly been almost completely lifted. A repeal of most parts of the ban was included in the major omnibus spending bill that passed at the end of 2015.
According to Buzzfeed news reporter John Stanton, key Republican supported finally came about in response to a recent and ongoing HIV outbreak in Indiana and the decision in Kentucky in 2015 to establish its own needle exchange program.
The reason I keep saying the ban was mostly overturned is that it’s still going to be illegal for federal money to cover the cost of the syringes themselves, presumably so members of Congress can say they’re not paying for needles. Fortunately, needles are cheap. And federal funds can now cover the other costs of needle exchange programs, such as facilities and staff. The change, though long overdue, is still welcome. As activists used to put it in the 1990s: “Dead addicts don’t recover.”
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]