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D.C. needle exchange faces funding cutoff

Needles October 24, 1998
Web posted at: 8:57 p.m. EDT (0057 GMT)

From Reporter Jonathan Aiken

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the past three years, the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington has run a needle exchange program for drug addicts, swapping 17,000 dirty needles for clean ones every month in an effort to stem the spread of HIV.

But tucked into the budget bill approved last week by Congress was a ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia, a provision that also applies to moneys coming from the local government in the federal district.

"Congress, under the Constitution and laws, does have some governance over the District of Columbia and acts as a state government as well as the federal government," explains Paul Rothstein, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Law.

The new provision has forced Whitman-Walker to turn its needle exchange program over to a private group. And some district residents and political leaders are expressing outrage over what they see as congressional interference in local affairs.

Whitman-Walker must turn its needle exchange program over to a private group  

"When we see that, intruding on how the district spends its own money, (it) means certain death for large numbers of people who just happen to live in the nation's capital," said Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the district's non-voting delegate in the U.S. House.

However, GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes funding for needle exchange programs is a sign of misplaced priorities.

"The Clinton administration has a very strange sense of public health. They were proposing to give clean needles to heroin addicts while blocking peanuts on airplanes," Gingrich said.

The Clinton administration has itself been ambivalent about needle exchange programs. While it has acknowledged that scientific evidence shows they do reduce the spread of HIV, the White House has refused to spend federal money on the programs.

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