Following CDC Report NMAC Again Urges Congress to Lift Syringe Exchange Ban

MMWR Highlights Intravenous Drug Users’ Risk of HIV Infection

Washington, DC – In its March 2 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report highlighting the continued vulnerability of the nation’s intravenous drug users (IDUs) to HIV infection.  According to the study, which focused on 20 metropolitan areas, nine percent of all IDUs tested were living with HIV.  What’s more, 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.

These statistics highlight the need for evidence-based harm reduction strategies to reduce health disparities among intravenous drug users.  Indeed, today’s CDC report references the success of syringe exchange programs in reducing HIV infections among IDUs.  Unfortunately, in December of last year, Congress reinstated its ban on use of federal funding for syringe exchange programs, which have been shown effective at both reducing the spread of HIV among IDUs as well as engaging often marginalized individuals into the larger heath care system, including substance abuse treatment programs.

“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 Director of Legislative and Public Affairs 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.  All too often these policies serve to perpetuate the epidemic among minority communities, which account for the overwhelming majority of new HIV infections both generally, and among intravenous drug users.”

Not only are IDUs at increased risk for HIV infection, but they are also overwhelming affected by Hepatitis B and C, a frequent HIV co-infection/morbidity.  A new Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 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.  What’s more, IDUs have significantly poorer health outcomes than other infected populations.

“In his 2013 budget request, President Obama called on the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange to once again be lifted,” added 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.  Research and medicine have given us the tools to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  We must rely on this evidence to inform our strategies and leave moral judgments out of public health decisions.  NMAC will continue to work with Congress, the White House and the broader HIV/AIDS community to ensure that we adequately address the significant disparities facing communities of color, and bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic once and for all.”


Contact:  Kyle Murphy, (202) 483-6622 ext. 333