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Needle-exchange fight looms in House

Reuters / July 11, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Democrats in the House of Representatives yesterday unveiled legislation to lift a ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs, a shift to try to reduce AIDS virus infections but one that will probably spark a fight.

As part of a $160.7 billion measure to fund the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services for fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1, Democrats scrapped the prohibition that has been included in the annual spending bill in previous years.

“Scientific studies have documented that needle-exchange programs, when implemented as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention for reducing AIDS/HIV infections and do not promote drug use,’’ said Representative David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

President Obama had pledged during the campaign to lift the ban but when his budget was released earlier this year, activists criticized him for failing to propose cutting the restriction.

His predecessor, George W. Bush, opposed needle-exchange programs, which most specialists agree can reduce transmission of the AIDS virus.

Republicans are girding for a fight over the ban and lawmakers could try to restore it as the legislation moves through the House during the next two weeks.