Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) put the emphasis on science during today's debate in the House of Representatives on H.R. 3717, a bill that would make permanent the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs. "Science, not politics, should lead on public health policy," said Pelosi, who managed the opposition to the restrictive legislation. "The science is irrefutable," she added. "Needle exchange works and works well. It reduces the spread of HIV and does not contribute to intravenous drug use. Today's vote to codify the ban does nothing to change the science."
In a consensus statement (issued February 1997), a distinguished National Institutes of Health panel affirmed that needle exchange prevents HIV infections and does not promote drug abuse. According to the panel, "individuals in areas with needle exchange programs have increased likelihood of entering drug treatment." In addition, six government funded studies have documented the positive effects of needle exchange and refuted the argument that the program sends a mixed message about drug abuse.
Scores of leading national organizations support needle exchange, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. There is public support as well -- 61% of Americans think state and local governments should decide for themselves whether federal funds should be used for needle exchange.*
"It is a mistake to limit access to a proven health intervention to those communities that can afford to use local money to fund needle exchange programs. Aside from the human and emotional toll the HIV infection inflicts, the medical cost of caring for someone infected with the virus is $120,000. We can prevent infection and the spread of the disease with a 10-cent syringe," Pelosi said.
The House voted 287-140 to impose a permanent federal funding ban on needle exchange. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.
* Kaiser Family Foundation, "1997 National Survey of Americans on AIDS/HIV," December 1997.
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