Lifting the Ban on Harm Reduction

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Obama White House announced today that the new President supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of HIV/AIDS infection among drug users. Will he also lift the ban on the concept of harm reduction, which has paralysed the international drug policy debate under his predecessors?

During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton endorsed removing the federal ban during their term in office. During the election campaign Obama said that he would "support legislation that would lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange as a strategy to reduce HIV transmission among injection-drug users and their partners and children."

As President elect he announced a comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy to reduce HIV infections, increase access to treatment and care and reduce HIV/AIDS-related health disparities.

Obama is now President and Clinton is appointed secretary of state. On Jan. 6, 2009, Bronx Democratic Congressman Jose Serrano, along with 28 sponsors, introduced into Congress a bill - HR 179, the Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act of 2009 - to lift the ban.

Needle exchange is considered an effective measure, which in the rest of the world is called harm reduction – a strategy that is adopted in more than 80 countries (see also: The Battle for Harm Reduction). Nevertheless, US delegates in Vienna negotiating a new Political Declaration – to be approved in March 2009 at the high-level segment of the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs – are still stalling introduction of the words harm reduction and related language.

It is time to not only lift the federal ban on needle exchange, but also the federal ban on the words harm reduction. That could be announced tomorrow and would be a message to the world that the new President of the United States is taking the fight against HIV/AIDS seriously and would be a first step in Renewing American Global Leadership to which Obama has committed himself.