House OKs needle exchange funding
WASHINGTON - The House voted yesterday to lift a ban on using taxpayer dollars for needle exchange programs intended to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases among intravenous drug users.
The vote to lift a longstanding ban on federal aid for such programs - in place since 1988 - was taken after a brief but passionate debate on an amendment by Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, to keep the ban in place. His amendment failed by a 211-to-218 vote.
Souder said that HIV is spread chiefly through sexual activities and that needle exchange programs do not have a proven record of success.
Souder contends that “providing needles acts as a way for drug users to sustain and support their intravenous drug use and does not address the primary illness of the drug addiction.’’
But Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California, said the scientific evidence is indisputable and needle exchange programs put addicts into contact with social services agencies, opening a door for them to seek treatment.
“Sound science is an essential component of good public health policy, and the scientific support for needle exchange could not be more clear,’’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. “These initiatives are an effective public health intervention that reduces the number of new HIV infections without increasing the use of illegal drugs.’’
The vote was taken as the House passed, 264 to 153, a massive spending bill for health, labor, and education programs for the upcoming budget year, cementing big spending increases for a swath of programs.
The measure funds a bevy of programs popular with lawmakers in both parties, such as health research, heating subsidies for the poor, aid to school districts, and Pell Grants for low-income college students.
The $730.5 billion measure combines $163.4 billion in discretionary spending - the amount over which the panel has direct control - with $567 billion for federal benefit programs. Those mainly are Medicare and Medicaid.
The measure would provide an $11 billion, or 7 percent, increase for these discretionary programs, including a big increase for Social Security disability claims.