Needle exchange programs save lives. They slow the spread of
H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, and they help get addicts
into treatment. Yet when it comes to supporting these programs,
it seems that the political cowardice never ends.
For the last 20 years, Congress has blocked the use of federal
money to pay for needle exchange programs in the United States or
abroad. For 10 years, Congress banned Washington from using tax
dollars raised in the District of Columbia to pay for needle
Congress finally lifted Washington's ban in December, stripping
that provision in the federal budget that President Bush had
signed. The District of Columbia has now allocated $650,000 that
will, among other things, pay to open a clinic that combines
needle exchanges with H.I.V. testing. In what would be an
unconscionable reversal, President Bush's new budget request
would reimpose that ban.
Needle exchange programs have proved highly successful around the
world, and the country's most important medical and public health
organizations have endorsed the efforts for more than a decade.
Opponents' claims that needle exchanges would encourage addiction
have turned out to be nonsense.
The nation's capital has the country's highest rate of H.I.V.
infection, and a recent report by the District of Columbia's
health department found that more than 20 percent of the city's
AIDS cases could be traced to intravenous drug users. Now that
Washington has a chance to fight back, the White House must not
be allowed to hobble that effort.
Congress must insist that Washington be allowed to spend its own
money on needle exchange programs. And it must begin passing
budgets that allow states - and health organizations overseas -
to use federal dollars for these life-saving programs.