In my October review of President Obama's drug policies, I noted that he supported lifting the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs…until his first budget proposal, which kept the ban in place. The Democrat-controlled Congress removed it anyway, but now Republicans are restoring it as part of their end-of-the-year spending package. "The federal syringe funding ban was costly in both human and fiscal terms," says Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is outrageous that Congress is restoring it given how overwhelming and clear the science is in support of making sterile syringes widely available. Make no mistake about it—members of Congress who supported this ban have put the lives of their constituents in jeopardy."
While using taxpayers' money to buy needles for heroin addicts seems like a policy designed to make conservatives' heads explode, there is substantial evidence that such programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. Among progressives, federal funding for needle exchange is a hallmark of the humane, science-driven drug policy they hoped Obama would deliver. Libertarians are apt to have more reservations about subsidizing drug-injecting equipment (as opposed to removing legal barriers to buying, possessing, and distributing it).But if the federal government is going to spend money fighting AIDS, it should do so as cost-effectively as possible, unhampered by moralistic dictates.