Over 140 Community, National and International Organizations Call on Congress to Lift Syringe Funding Ban

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 The ban was put in place in 1988, repealed in 2009, and reinstated by Congress in 2011.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

Dear Chairs,

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.

Sincerely,

Regional/National/International

30 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)

Arizona

Arizona Hepatitis C Coalition
HIV/AIDS Law Project
Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation
Wingspan

California

California 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

Colorado

Boulder County AIDS Project
Colorado AIDS Project
Colorado Organizations Responding to AIDS (CORA)
Harm Reduction Action Center, Denver, CO
Hep C Connection, Denver CO

Delaware

Delaware HIV Consortium

Florida

Okaloosa AIDS Support and Informational Services, Inc. (OASIS), Ft. Walton Beach, FL 

Georgia

AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta
Georgia AIDS Coalition

Hawaii

CHOW Project
Hep Free Hawaii

Illinois

AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Asian Health Coalition
Chicago Recovery Alliance

Indiana

Harm Reduction Institute

Kentucky

Champions for a Drug Free Pendleton County
Transitions, Inc., Kentucky

Maine

Down East AIDS Network
Maine Harm Reduction Alliance
Maine Public Health Association

Maryland

AIDS Action Baltimore
Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition
Maryland Hepatitis Coalition

Massachusetts

Boston Public Health Commission
Division of Infectious Disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Tapestry Health

Michigan

The Grand Rapids Red Project

Minnesota

LiverHope
Minnesota AIDS Project

New Jersey

Hepatitis C Association
Paterson Counseling Center, Inc.
South Jersey AIDS Alliance

New Mexico

Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, Inc.

New York

Community 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 Carolina

North Carolina AIDS Action Network
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition

Ohio

AIDS Resource Center Ohio
Cincinnati Exchange Project
Ohio AIDS Coalition

Oregon

Caring Ambassadors Program
Cascade AIDS Project

Pennsylvania

ActionAIDS
Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force
Prevention Point Philadelphia
Prevention Point Pittsburgh
Project SAFE of Philadelphia

Puerto Rico

Intercambios – Puerto Rico

Tennessee

Nashville CARES

Texas

Legacy Community Health Services

Vermont

Vermont CARES

Washington

Hepatitis Education Project W

Washington, D.C.

DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
HIPS, Washington, DC
Lifelong
START at Westminster
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Source: www.drugpolicy.org