Friday, October 24, 2008

How Might the Presidential Election Impact Needle Exchange in Delaware?

Our friends at Prevention Point Philadelphia are featured in a recent Philadelphia City Paper article, "Hope and (Ex)Change: What the Election Means for Heroin Users." The article describes how Philadelphia’s needle exchange faces limits in its funding, and consequently, on its effectiveness. Due to a federal ban on funding needle exchange, Prevention Point operates with city funding alone. This amounts to much less support than other AIDS prevention programs.

However, a new Presidential administration brings a possibility that the ban could be overturned. What would this mean for programs like Prevention Point, and for Brandywine Counseling in Delaware? What would it mean for injecting drug users?

The most obvious answer is that if federal funds became available, programs would have one more funding source to pursue. It could mean more staff, more supplies, and increased hours of operation.

Besides an increase in available dollars, there is another potential effect. Needle exchange programs would have increased freedom to partner with other community organizations. Imagine that BCI’s van could offer mobile screening or vaccines for infectious diseases besides HIV, and thus combat several dangerous public health epidemics at once. This is not possible under the ban, because the agencies that would do this work are federally funded. Although their staff would not exchange needles themselves, they are not permitted to provide ancillary services to needle exchange participants.

But perhaps the greatest impact would be on another level altogether, and that is to reduce the stigma associated with syringe exchange. Federal funding would be symbolic as a stamp of approval for the practice, from the highest level of government. It would legitimize what we do. It would substantiate the science that has proven the effectiveness of needle exchange at reducing HIV risk. The ripple effects might even extend into substance abuse treatment, lending credibility to harm reduction in general, and allowing providers to follow its principles alongside cognitive behavioral therapy.

Most likely, needle exchange isn’t the foremost issue on our minds as we head toward November 4. Even so, for heroin users here in Delaware, the ramifications are potentially far-reaching.

No comments: