The spike in overdoses and diseases related to sharing needles may mean it's time to revoke a ban restricting federal funds for syringe exchanges. However, lawmakers are resistant to allowing taxpayer dollars to go toward safer drug use, reports Roll Call. Public health advocates argue that providing clean needles can reduce fatalities and limit the spread of infectious diseases for those who use injectable drugs. The programs can also connect people who use drugs to health care, and potentially education and treatment. Multiple public health agencies like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have said the ability to connect drug users with opioid reversal drugs like naloxone or fentanyl test strips can also reduce drug-related deaths. However, since 1990, the federal government has banned funding to distribute syringes and needles. “Traditionally, the federal government has focused on prevention and treatment when it comes to drug activity. But we know that prevention and treatment in and of themselves are not sufficient,” said Maritza Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Some 334 origanizations have written to Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations leaders asking Congress to remove the syringe funding ban and provide $150 million for the Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic program to expand access to syringe services. Last week, the American Medical Association released a report recommending increased access to harm reduction services led by physicians and policymakers. However, pushback remains, with the loudest opposition coming from Republican lawmakers. Opponents from both parties, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), have concerns that the programs could increase drug use. “While this is a heartbreaking issue that must be fully addressed by the federal government, using taxpayer funds to buy paraphernalia for those struggling with substance use disorder is not the solution,” Manchin has said.