Syringe Ban Hampering Local Community Efforts to Address Heroin Use and Reduce Diseases Such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C; Hundreds of Thousands of Lives and Billions of Dollars Have Been Lost As a Result of Decades-Old Ban
Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 27, 2014. Earlier today, more than 140 local, national and international organizations released a letter calling on Congress to end the archaic federal funding ban on syringe service programs (SSPs). The ban was put in place in 1988, repealed in 2009, and reinstated by Congress in 2011. The signatories include over 80 prominent organizations from 26 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, in addition to dozens of national and international organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Human Rights Campaign. The letter is released to coincide with National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), which takes place today.
The letter addresses Senators Barbara Mikulski and Tom Harkin, as well as Congressmen Hal Rogers and Jack Kingston. Mikulski, Harkin, Rogers, and Kingston all hold leadership positions in the Senate and House appropriations committees, putting them in a position to repeal the harmful ban. The letter states that, “Making SSPs available is an essential component of a comprehensive, public health approach to the heroin crisis, especially because they connect users to drug treatment and health care, overdose prevention, and provide vital tools and education that have been shown to save lives.” Communities believe that the syringe program funding ban strips “public health professionals in our communities…of their expert judgment and effectiveness by being denied existing federal support for a tool that prevents the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, reduces injuries to law enforcement and first responders, and saves public sector resources,” according to the letter. Other benefits of SSPs include a narrower health gap between ethnicities and fewer used syringes discarded in public. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that there is no link between SSPs and increased drug use.
According to Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance, “The letter is a clear signal to Congress that local communities want the ban lifted so that they can tackle the public health crises that these communities are suffering. Congress’s insistence in keeping the ban in place is yet another example of how Washington is out of touch with the needs of the American people.”
In the U.S., injection drug use has accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of AIDS cases – more than 354,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet the U.S. bans federal funding for sterile syringe access programs, even though the CDC has found that such programs lower incidence of HIV/AIDS among people who inject drugs by 80 percent. This refusal to adopt an evidence-based prevention strategy has cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
In countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won. New HIV infections in countries such as Australia, Germany and Switzerland have been virtually eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child HIV transmission has been eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible.
As Congress goes through the appropriations process for its FY15 budget, it has the opportunity to lift the federal funding ban so that states may choose freely choose how to address this public health issue.
Read the full letter below:The Honorable Barbara Mikulski, Chairwoman, Senate Committee on Appropriations The Honorable Hal Rogers Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations The Honorable Tom Harkin, Chairman, Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human
Services, Education, and Related Agencies The Honorable Jack Kingston Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human
Services, Education, and Related Agencies
June 27, 2014
As members of and advocates for communities that have been affected by heroin and prescription drug injection use, we are writing to you today to request that you lift the harmful ban on federal funding for syringe services programs (SSPs). In many cases, the ban has prevented local and state governments from exercising their own discretion in using federal funds to provide sterile syringes to drug users, and we believe it has exacerbated the heroin and prescription drug crisis that currently ravages many of our communities, as well as increasing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. We therefore urge you to take action on this issue immediately and lift the federal ban, thus saving lives and money.
Under the ban, public health professionals in our communities are stripped of their expert judgment and effectiveness by being denied existing federal support for a tool that prevents the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, reduces injuries to law enforcement and first responders, and saves public sector resources. As efforts to restrict the supply of prescription opioids have been enacted, we have seen a corollary rise in the use of heroin in our neighborhoods, and with it an increase in overdoses and exposure to infectious diseases. Making SSPs available is an essential component of a comprehensive, public health approach to the heroin crisis, especially because they connect users to drug treatment and health care, overdose prevention, and provide vital tools and education that have been shown to save lives. Support for SSPs is strong among diverse stakeholders, including medical and public health professionals, law enforcement, and our impacted communities.
The ban on federal funding for SSPs takes the form of language inserted into the Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The ban is a remnant of the polarized HIV/AIDS debate in the 1980s and 1990s, when some commentators incorrectly claimed that providing sterile syringes would increase drug use. There is no evidence that such programs promote or increase drug use or crime. On the contrary, research shows that SSPs can increase the likelihood of entering drug treatment five-fold, and consequently such programs are vital for our communities. Furthermore, these programs save taxpayer dollars by preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and protect law enforcement from being exposed to contaminated syringes. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on SSPs, an estimated $3-$7 are saved in HIV treatment costs. SSPs are also crucial in addressing health disparities in our country, given that African-Americans are eleven times and Latinos five times more likely to contract HIV from an infected syringe than Caucasians.
Lifting the ban on federal funding for SSPs would not add any additional costs to the federal budget, but would merely allow states and localities to spend federal dollars as they see fit, and would result in substantial cost-savings from averted HIV and hepatitis C infections for heavily burdened healthcare systems. We also believe it is an important step in tackling the current challenges we face surrounding heroin and prescription drug use. Accordingly, we urge you to remove this ban on SSPs from FY ‘15 appropriations legislation.
Regional/National/International30 for 30 Campaign
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Aids Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA) AIDS United American Academy of HIV Medicine American Association of Community Psychiatrists The American Medical Student Association American Psychological Association American Public Health Association Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations Association of State and Territorial Health Officials Black Women’s Health Imperative Community Access National Network (CANN) Digestive Disease National Coalition Drug Policy Alliance Family and Medical Counseling Service Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention (AVAC) H.E.A.L.S of the South Harm Reduction Coalition HealthHIV Hepatitis, AIDS, Research Trust HIV Medicine Association HIV Prevention Justice Alliance Human Rights Campaign Infectious Diseases Society of America Latino Commission on AIDS Legal Action Center NAACP National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) National Association of County and City Health Officials National Association of Social Workers (NASW) National Center for Lesbian Rights National Coalition of STD Directors National Council of Jewish Women National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund National Hepatitis Patient Advocacy Committee Positive Women’s Network -USA (PWN-USA) Presbyterian AIDS Network National Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAAN) National Women and AIDS Collective National Minority Aids Council (NMAC) One in Four Chronic Health Project Inform Regional AIDS Interfaith Network Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) Southern AIDS Coalition Student Global AIDS Campaign Students for Sensible Drug Policy The AIDS Institute The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) The Global Justice Institute The National Center for Transgender Equality The National Hispanic Medical Association The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable The Ribbon Consulting Group Treatment Access Expansion Project United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS)
ArizonaArizona Hepatitis C Coalition HIV/AIDS Law Project Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation Wingspan
CaliforniaCalifornia Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) California Center for Rural Policy C.O.R.E. Medical Clinic, Inc. Hep-TEV Local Area Support for Hepatitis (LASH) Pacific Pride Foundation Robert G. Gish Consultants, LLC San Francisco AIDS Foundation San Luis Obispo Co. AIDS Support Network Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center
ColoradoBoulder County AIDS Project Colorado AIDS Project Colorado Organizations Responding to AIDS (CORA) Harm Reduction Action Center, Denver, CO Hep C Connection, Denver CO
DelawareDelaware HIV Consortium
Okaloosa AIDS Support and Informational Services, Inc. (OASIS), Ft. Walton Beach, FL
GeorgiaAIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta Georgia AIDS Coalition
Hep Free Hawaii
IllinoisAIDS Foundation of Chicago Asian Health Coalition Chicago Recovery Alliance
Harm Reduction Institute
KentuckyChampions for a Drug Free Pendleton County Transitions, Inc., Kentucky
MaineDown East AIDS Network Maine Harm Reduction Alliance Maine Public Health Association
MarylandAIDS Action Baltimore Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition Maryland Hepatitis Coalition
MassachusettsBoston Public Health Commission Division of Infectious Disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Tapestry Health
The Grand Rapids Red Project
MinnesotaLiverHope Minnesota AIDS Project
New JerseyHepatitis C Association Paterson Counseling Center, Inc. South Jersey AIDS Alliance
Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Inc.
New YorkCommunity Health Action of Staten Island Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Harlem United Community AIDS Center HIV Law Project Housing Works New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE) Staten Island LGBT Community Center Treatment Action Group The Center for HIV Law & Policy The Hepatitis C Mentor & Support Group, Inc. VOCAL New York
North CarolinaNorth Carolina AIDS Action Network North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
OhioAIDS Resource Center Ohio Cincinnati Exchange Project Ohio AIDS Coalition
OregonCaring Ambassadors Program Cascade AIDS Project
PennsylvaniaActionAIDS Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force Prevention Point Philadelphia Prevention Point Pittsburgh Project SAFE of Philadelphia
Intercambios – Puerto Rico
Legacy Community Health Services
Hepatitis Education Project W
Washington, D.C.DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice HIPS, Washington, DC Lifelong START at Westminster Westminster Presbyterian Church