amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR Submits Testimony to Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on Harm Reduction

February 17, 2005 – A House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources yesterday held a hearing on harm reduction, which includes syringe exchange programs (SEPs). Congress prohibits SEPs from receiving federal funds, but they are supported in some states by state and local funds. The hearing was convened by Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), a long-time opponent of harm reduction programs as a means of reducing HIV transmission.

Dr. Judith Auerbach, amfAR’s vice president for public policy and program development, submitted written testimony to the Subcommittee on the Foundation’s behalf. In her testimony, Dr. Auerbach documented the need for harm reduction programs, including syringe exchange, as well as their effectiveness as a public health strategy to reduce the transmission of HIV among drug users, their sex partners, and their children, both in the U.S. and globally. The testimony will be entered into the permanent Congressional record.

Testimony to the Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Hearing: “Harm Reduction or Harm Maintenance: Is There Such a Thing as Safe Drug Abuse?”  (February 16, 2005)

Submitted by Judith D. Auerbach, Ph.D., Vice President, Public Policy and Program Development, American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR)

As the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of HIV/AIDS research, AIDS prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) supports the implementation of harm reduction programs, including syringe exchange programs (SEPs), as an effective public health strategy to reduce HIV transmission.

An estimated one to two million Americans inject illegal drugs, and the CDC reports that the sharing of HIV-contaminated syringes accounted for 24% of AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. through 2003. Worldwide, the numbers are even more staggering: over 5 million people have been infected with HIV from injecting drug use-associated risk, according to the UNAIDS 2004 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. Cessation of drug use is a laudable goal; but for those individuals who are unable to abstain altogether, public health measures that can save their lives must be made available. This is the principle of harm reduction.

Scientific evidence repeatedly has shown that improving access to sterile syringes reduces the risk of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases among drug users, their partners, and their families. Numerous reports and reviews of this evidence come to the same conclusion as did the U.S. Surgeon General in March 2000, who said that there is “conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does not encourage the illegal use of drugs.”

The attached pages document the need and the evidence-base for harm reduction approaches, including syringe exchange and addiction treatment, as responsible public health policy.

Please feel free to contact the American Foundation for AIDS Research with any questions.