President Bush tries to revive a ban on
needle-exchange programs in the District.
Friday, February 8, 2008; A18
TUCKED INTO President Bush's 2009 budget proposal is
the resurrection of a provision, dumped by Congress
last year, that prohibits the District from using its
own money to fund needle-exchange programs. This is
unconscionable, especially since intravenous drug use
is helping to fuel the HIV-AIDS crisis gripping the
city. That Mr. Bush would do this in a budget that
will take effect after he's left Washington strikes us
as gratuitous and shortsighted.
The restriction was attached to the District's
appropriations bill by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) in
1998. Mr. Bush has supported the prohibition every
year of his administration. Despite plenty of evidence
to the contrary, he and Mr. Tiahrt are part of the
head-in-the-sand crowd that believes swapping addicts'
dirty needles for clean ones encourages drug use.
Never mind that there are more than 210
syringe-swapping programs in 36 states. Every attempt
to excise the harmful provision failed -- until last
year. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep.
Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) used the new Democratic
majority in the House to finally strip it from
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) wasted no time once the
District's federal appropriation was finalized late
last year. He immediately pumped $300,000 into
PreventionWorks!, the city's only needle-exchange
program, to expand its services. He hopes to fund four
more organizations that do similar work. The deadline
to answer a request for proposals is Feb. 29. The
awards will be made in April. The help can't come soon
enough. Fourteen percent of District residents who
became HIV-positive did so through intravenous drug
use. Overall, AIDS is devastating the city, with 128.4
AIDS cases per 100,000 people. This is higher than the
rates in Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia.
Mr. Bush's attempt to reinstate the ban on local
funding of needle-exchange programs will not affect
Mr. Fenty's current plans. Still, he will have to
fight anew to ensure that the prohibition does not
make it into the final appropriation that will go into
effect next year. But we take heart in one thing:
While the president can make budget proposals,
Congress will actually write the bill. Congress would
do the District a good deed and potentially save lives
if it ignored Mr. Bush on this issue.