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April 01, 2011

ABA Urges Federal Support for Syringe Exchange Programs

The ABA expressed support last month for continuation of federal funding for syringe exchange programs, which the association maintains are an effective public strategy for reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS in the United States.

In March 30 letters to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman urged them to reject efforts to ban the use of federal funds for the programs for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and for fiscal year 2012.

Earlier this year the House passed a ban as part of H.R. 1, legislation to provide funding for the rest of fiscal year 2011. Also included in H.R. 1 were provisions to prohibit the District of Columbia from using its own funds for syringe exchange programs, a restriction that was lifted by Congress in 2007.

The provisions were not included in P.L. 112-10, the final version of funding legislation for fiscal year 2011 signed April 15 by the president.

 “These programs enjoy broad support from state and local health departments and the communities they serve, and voluminous research has established that they are cost-effective and vital to protecting public health, reducing HIV transmission, and addressing drug addiction by encouraging and assisting intravenous drug addicts to enroll in substance abuse treatment programs.” Susman wrote. He emphasized that the country is still in the grip of a domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic that is worse than previously realized and that federal funds are more crucial for meeting local needs as states suffer budget shortfalls.

He cited the success of syringe exchange programs in the state of New York, where the proportion of new diagnoses attributable to injection drug use has decreased dramatically and more than 175,000 referrals have been made to detoxification and substance abuse treatment programs, health care services, HIV counseling and testing, and social services. As the historic epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, Susman said, New York relies on preserving flexibility in the use of federal funds for syringe exchanges in order to meet the continued challenges of disease prevention and public health.

He also noted that a ban on federal funds would jeopardize new programs in several states – including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – that opted to direct a portion of their federal funds to syringe exchange under current policy enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010.

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