US partially lifts ban on government funded needle exchange programmes

08 January 2016
Used needles in bins at a needle exchange programme

The United States of America has in December, quietly and partially lifted their ban on federal funding for needle and syringe exchange programmes (NSPs), as reported by BuzzFeed.

The ‘partial’ lift of government funding means that organisations will not be able to purchase needles, but will be able to pay for the “staff, the vans, the gas, rent, everything but the syringes. It’s basically a giant work around”, declared Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California at San Diego.

Federal funding for NSPs has been controversial in the US. The move to fully fund NSPs started when President Obama and the Democrats came to office in 2008, officially ending the ban in 2009. But the move lasted only one year, when in 2010, a Republican-owned House swiftly terminated federal funding for the programmes.

However, a well-publicised HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs in Indiana, and an epidemic of heroin use across the US Midwest, has caused some Republicans to rethink their staunch status on the provision of harm reduction. Indeed, it was three Republican congresspeople from Kentucky and West Virginia who are said to have led the move.

Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention said: “Congress has given states and local communities, under limited circumstances, the opportunity to use federal funds to support certain components of syringe services programs. These programs provide sterile injection equipment and may also link individuals to services including HIV and Hepatitis C testing and care for those infected, substance abuse treatment, and overdose prevention.”

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