It was (purposely) obscured by a much larger bill, but President Obama managed to implement one of the key public health reforms of the last decade. David Obey of Wisconsin helped remove the provision banning federal funds for needle exchange from the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The Clinton Administration’s drug czar Barry McCaffey convinced Clinton not to lift the ban in the late 1990s, despite the enormous benefit to public health, because it would undermine the War on Drugs. It is nice to see that while the President has failed on many of his commitments to change, he finally made a progressive move that isn’t tempered by a handout to corporate interests.
Many Health and Human Service Secretaries and Surgeons General have touted the benefits of needle-exchange programs. And they are used with success in cities outside the United States as well as state and locally supported programs in the US. With Obama’s record thus far, choosing politicking over progressing, I didn’t think this would actually get through. Some Republicans did criticize the move stating that clean needles promotes drug use, but Obey, with Obama’s help, managed to lift the ban without falling prey to a weak argument. I’m impressed.