House Says No To Needle Exchange

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

(CNS) - The House passed an amendment to the DC appropriations budget Thursday, making publicly funded needle exchange programs (NEP) illegal in the District of Columbia.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) authored the legislation, and told in an interview "we encourage drug use by handing out needles to enable addicts to further their self-destructive behavior. I support drug treatment programs that are proven to be effective."

The measure passed with a 241-187 margin.

"I'm very pleased by the outcome, I'm also pleased with the margin. We've got probably a little bit more to the left than the average voting congress, so I'm very pleased with 241," Tiahrt told

Opponents of the amendment, during House floor debate, cited studies that claim NEPs help stop the spread of HIV, and do not contribute to the growth of drug abuse. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey are two supporters of NEPs.

"I am now writing to express my strong belief that local programs of clean needle exchange can be an effective means of preventing the spread of the disease without increasing the use of illicit drugs," Koop said in a letter sent to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Koop hoped to gain Hastert's support for NEPs.

Tiahrt disagreed with Koop's conclusion. "The studies that they have are far reaching, they are searching for a solution, and they're trying to form the results of the study to meet this preconceived solution," the Kansas congressman told

Last year Congress banned the use of city funds on a needle exchange program, but the House Appropriations Committee lifted the ban last week. Koop and Ramsey have asked Congress not to reinstate the law.

Tiahrt countered their argument by citing evidence from a Johns Hopkins University study that showed that nine out of ten intravenous drug users are already the carriers of infectious diseases such as the Hepatitis-C virus. The congressman argues needle exchange programs do not prevent the passing of infectious diseases but instead only encourages further drug use.

"If you get a blood borne virus like Hepatitis-C two things happen, either you die or get a liver transplant," Tiahrt said in an interview with "The whole concept is a failed concept and they've tried to bolster it by these bogus studies."

Several private nonprofit group have reportedly offered to fund NEPs in D.C. if the amendment passed.

"I think in America people can take their hard earned money and spend it on foolish ineffective programs. I think funding an ineffective program that spreads blood borne viruses makes neighborhoods more dangerous, and enables people to conduct an illegal activity, that's bad policy and wrong," said Tiahrt.