This was a vote on the amendment offered by Rep. Souder (R-IN) to H.R.3293, the bill that provided 2010 fiscal year funding for the Department of Health and Human Services. The amendment would have prohibited any funds in the bill from being devoted to hypodermic needles that could conceivably be used by those taking illegal drugs. H.R. 3293 included language that allowed federal funds to pay for needle exchange programs: That language was intended to reduce the incidence of HIV.
Souder began his remarks in support of his amendment by claiming that, in most cases, “the HIV virus does not come through needles. The overwhelming majority comes through sexual activity . . . .” He cited what he called “recent comprehensive analysis of the evidence by the U.S. Institute of Medicine (which) noted that the evidence that needle exchanges reduce HIV incidence is limited and inconclusive, that the evidence is even worse for Hepatitis C transmission, and that their impact on high-risk behaviors like sex-related risk is inconclusive.”
Souder argued that “Congress has repeatedly banned needle exchange programs (because) . . . they may undermine community drug-prevention messages and programs, . . . providing needles acts is a way for drug users to sustain and support their intravenous drug use . . . (it) does not address the primary illness of the drug addiction itself, and needle exchange programs direct critical resources away from treatment and intervention programs . . . .”
Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA), who had previously worked in alcohol and drug prevention programs, was among those opposing the amendment. She argued that the elimination of “the ban on Federal dollars for needle exchange programs is based on sound scientific research that tells us these programs are a valuable HIV prevention tool that does not increase drug use.” Roybal-Allard claimed that the Souder Amendment “returns us to a practice of allowing personal belief rather than science to direct our Federal funding decisions. The science is clear. When addicts have clean needles available, the incidence of HIV infection declines among users. Furthermore, needle exchange programs provide a critical portal to treatment and are an important part of our efforts to reduce the HIV epidemic.”
Rep. Mollohan (D-WV) also opposed the amendment because he felt it could increase the incidence of HIV and other diseases. He said “those of you who might support this amendment because you believe that withholding clean needles from addicted drug users is somehow helping in the fight against illegal drug use, please allow me to suggest that that is a mistaken view . . . the needle exchange program advocated for and carried out by health professionals is not one of those enablers because . . . at the moment that an addicted person has to have the drug, he or she is driven by this craving and the condition of the needle is not going to deter its use . . . The condition of the needle is not the deterrence and therefore withholding clean needles simply means that they likely use and share dirty needles--and this spreads disease.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 211-218. One hundred and sixty-five Republicans and forty-six Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and twelve Democrats and six Republicans voted “nay” . As a result, the language allowing federal funds to pay for needle exchange programs remained in the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of Health and Human Services.