AIDS group urges Congress to lift ban on syringe exchange

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The CDC in its March 2 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report highlighted the continued vulnerability of the nation’s intravenous drug users to HIV infection. 

According to a new study, which focused on 20 metropolitan areas, 9 percent of all IDUs tested were living with HIV. Also, 45 percent were unaware of their infection, meaning IDUs are more than twice as likely to be unaware of their HIV status as the general public, placing not only themselves, but their partners at increased risk as well. 

The statistics highlight the need for evidence-based harm reduction strategies to reduce health disparities among intravenous drug users, according to the National Minority AIDS Council.

The CDC report references the success of syringe exchange programs in reducing HIV infections among IDUs.

But in December 2011, Congress reinstated its ban on use of federal funding for the syringe exchange programs shown to be effective at reducing the spread of HIV among IDUs.

“It was extremely disappointing that Congress decided to ignore the plethora of evidence pointing to the efficacy of syringe exchange programs,” said National Minority AIDS Council public affairs director Kali Lindsey. “For decades, the United States has been a leader in the global fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But despite the significant progress we’ve made as a nation in combatting this disease, Congress continues to ignore many recommendations from public health experts, instead legislating on the basis of social politics.” 

IDUs are at increased risk for HIV infection, but also are overwhelming affected by hepatitis B and C.

A new treatment improvement protocol released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration highlighted the impact of viral hepatitis on this population, noting that as much as 64 percent of intravenous drug users have chronic hepatitis C infection, and 11 percent are chronically infected with hepatitis B. 

“In his 2013 budget request, President Obama called on the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange to once again be lifted,” said Lindsey. “NMAC urges Congress to follow suit. Turning our backs on those who suffer from substance abuse and addiction is not only morally reprehensible, but also makes for disastrous public health policy.”

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