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Editorial: Politics and Needle Exchanges


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 exchange efforts.

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.


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Information in this article was accurate in February 23, 2008. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.