The federal ban, sponsored by the now-deceased Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., was enacted by Congress in 1988 and has been renewed annually.Supporters of the prohibition said needle exchanges encourage the use of dangerous drugs. Robert Martinez, chief of drug policy under President George H.W. Bush, said government funding for clean needles "undercuts the credibility of society's message that drug use is illegal and morally wrong."In 2000, however, Bush's surgeon general, David Satcher, said scientists had found that needle-exchange programs were effective and did not encourage drug use. A 1997 study said HIV infection rates had dropped by 5.8 percent in 29 cities around the world with the programs, and increased by 5.9 percent in 52 cities without them.Obama has sent a mixed message on needle programs. He endorsed federal funding as a presidential candidate, but his proposed 2009-10 budget continued the funding ban, even as his drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, was supporting needle exchanges at his confirmation hearing.House Democratic leaders waged a low-key campaign to repeal the ban this year. A Republican proposal to continue the funding prohibition was defeated on the House floor in July on a 218-211 vote, mostly along party lines.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Feds remove needle exchange funding ban; when will Texas get its act together?
Earlier this month Congress approved legislation that removed the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 18):
Texas still has no legal, functioning needle exchange program, despite legislative approval of a pilot in San Antonio in 2007. Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed threatened to prosecute volunteers participating in needle exchange programs, despite the clear intent of legislators to allow the SA pilot. Then in 2009, legislation to legalize needle exchange statewide (with a local opt-in) appeared to be sailing toward passage until the end-of-session meltdown over voter ID killed it along with hundreds of other unrelated bills.
State Sen. Bob Deuell, a Republican medical doctor from Northeast Texas, has lately made passing a needle exchange bill one of his top priorities. Perhaps the decision to free up federal money will be the final impetus needed to push his legislation over the hump in 2011.