This post was written by Sarah Jaffe, a blogger, freelance journalist and Nation intern.


The drug war : it has failed to reduce the number of Americans using illegal drugs, it has not significantly affected world production of those drugs, it has clogged the prison system with non-violent offenders and it has dehumanized a significant part of the American population.

In the face of the recession-induced crises in many state budgets, governors and legislators are starting to look at far less expensive alternatives to criminalizing drug use.

One very easy reform that would save both lives and money is still stalled because of silly political perceptions and the stigma attached to using intravenous drugs. For almost two decades the federal government has prohibited states from using their share of HIV/AIDS prevention money on syringe exchange programs. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans have contracted HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, or other infectious diseases.

Obama promised to overturn the ban on the campaign trail, but backpedaled once in office. Now the House’s Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee has overruled Obama and repealed the ban, but Republicans are trying to reinstate it.

David Obey, D-Wisconsin, chairs both the Subcommittee on Labor, Education, Health and Human Services and the House Appropriations Committee. His statement on the ban said, in part:

“Scientific studies have documented that needle exchange programs, when implemented as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention for reducing AIDS/HIV infections and do not promote drug use. The judgment we make in this bill is that it is time to lift this ban and let State and local jurisdictions determine if they want to pursue this approach.”

In addition, a 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that needle exchange programs are not only helpful in reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS, but also a way to get intravenous drug users to healthcare programs, and even to treatment that helps get them off drugs.

With common sense slowly coming back to drug policy in the US, it is time to finally overturn the ban on federally-funded needle exchanges. Saving lives and slowing the spread of HIV is more important than moralizing about drug abuse. Join The Nation in urging Congress to allow much-needed money to fund needle exchange programs.