Health/Fitness

Syringe Exchange Saves Lives, Says amfAR

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Jul 22, 2013
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On Tuesday, July 23, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, will bring together leading government, research, law enforcement and policy experts on Capitol Hill for a briefing supporting syringe exchange programs.

"If this country is serious about ending the AIDS epidemic, we must recognize the human and economic benefits of syringe services programs," said amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Chris Collins. "With a relatively modest investment, these programs save millions of dollars by averting HIV infection and the resulting health care costs. Lifting the ban on federal funding would help cash strapped state and local health leaders make their own choices about utilizing evidence based interventions to fight disease. Syringe exchange is one of those proven effective tools."

The briefing, entitled "Prescription Opioids, Heroin and Disease Prevention: Law Enforcement, Community and Research Perspectives," will discuss how syringe exchange programs (SEPs) save lives and public resources, and serve as vital bridges to services, such as HIV testing and counseling, drug treatment, overdose prevention, housing, and employment.

amfAR will also be showing a short film it just debuted titled, "The Exchange," which will be followed by a discussion on the role of SEP programs and other federal funding controversies related to public safety and critical public health challenges, including drug addiction or overdose, HIV and hepatitis C. Daniel Raymond, policy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, will moderate the panel.

According to an overwhelming body of evidence, needle and syringe services programs not only reduce the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, but also save money, encourage the safe disposal of syringes, minimize the risk of needlestick injuries to law enforcement officials, and help give people who inject drugs access to vital drug treatment services.

In 2009, Congress removed a 21-year prohibition on the use of federal funds to support syringe exchange programs (SEPs). Two years later, Congress re-imposed the ban on federal funding for SEPs. In 2013, even as injection drug use continues to contribute substantially to the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in the United States, federal public health funds are largely unavailable for SEPs. In 2009, Congress removed a 21-year prohibition on the use of federal funds to support SEPs. Two years later, Congress re-imposed the ban on federal funding for SEPs.

"In spite of the strong evidence in favor of these cost-effective public health programs, the use of federal funds to support syringe exchange programs is banned. Join us in urging lawmakers to end the ban," reads a statement from amfAR.

The event is presented in cooperation with the offices of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Organizational co-sponsors include amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, AIDS United, the Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition, Drug Policy Alliance, Evergreen Treatment Services (of the Seattle area), Harm Reduction Coalition, HIV Medicine Association, Lifelong AIDS Alliance (of Seattle), National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc., North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, National Minority AIDS Council and Tapestry Health (of Massachusetts).

The panel will be held on Tuesday, July 23 from 2:30-4 p.m. at the Capitol Visitor Center, Room 208-209. Enter at First Street NE and East Capitol Street. For more information, visit www.amfar.org/endtheban or RSVP at rsvp.policyoffice@amfar.org

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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