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Syringe Exchange Progress in Federal Spending Bill

Harm Reduction Coalition statement: Syringe Exchange Progress in Federal Spending Bill

Draft bill allows some flexibility on use of funds for syringe exchange programs


Contact: Daniel Raymond, Policy Director, Harm Reduction Coalition:  212-377-9121 or  raymond@harmreduction.org

Today the House of Representatives released a draft version of its FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill, which covers federal spending levels and polices for all discretionary health programs, including those under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA). This spending bill has historically prohibited any use of federal dollars for carrying out syringe exchange programs.

The draft bill continues the restriction on purchasing syringes with federal funds, but includes language allowing limited use of federal dollars for other program elements such as substance use counseling, with a focus on communities experiencing or at risk of injection-related HIV or hepatitis C outbreaks.

“We thank House Appropriations staff, committee members and leadership for recognizing the urgent risk of HIV and hepatitis C transmission in the wake of the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin crisis,” said Harm Reduction Coalition’s Policy Director Daniel Raymond.

“This language responds to the needs of communities at the forefront of this crisis and facilitates integration of substance use counseling and treatment into disease prevention programs.”

The draft language responds to the recent HIV outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, with over 160 new infections attributed to shared syringes used to inject painkillers. In addition, new hepatitis C infections – largely driven by injection drug use – have increased by 150% since 2010, with CDC estimating nearly 30,000 new infections in 2013. Large increases in hepatitis C infections among young people who inject drugs have been documented by CDC in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. These disturbing trends have resulted in new legislation in Kentucky and Indiana allowing the establishment of syringe exchange programs under local discretion and state guidance.

“While Harm Reduction Coalition continues to call for a complete removal of the federal funding ban, we regard this language as an important step in recognizing the need for coordinated and comprehensive responses to prescription opioid and heroin injection,” said Daniel Raymond.

“We have been working with local officials and community leaders in many of the most severely affected areas, who will welcome this flexibility in their efforts to reduce the harmful consequences of injection drug use and link those at risk of HIV and hepatitis C to effective drug counseling, treatment and health care services.”

Harm Reduction Coalition will continue to monitor the progress of the bill and work with Congress and our advocacy partners on comprehensive strategies towards ending overdose deaths, preventing new infections, and ensuring access to effective drug treatment and health care for all individuals and communities struggling with the prescription opioid and heroin crisis.

Language from the draft bill:

SEC. 520. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no funds appropriated in this Act shall be used to purchase sterile needles or syringes for the hypodermic injection of any illegal drug: Provided, That such limitation does not apply to the use of funds for elements of a program other than making such purchases if the relevant State or local health department, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determines that the State or local jurisdiction, as applicable, is experiencing, or is at risk for, a significant increase in hepatitis infections or an HIV outbreak due to injection drug use, and such program is operating in accordance with State and local law.


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