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Rep. LaMalfa Proposes Renewed Ban On Syringe Exchange Funding

Image of person's hands holding syringe.
Jair Lazaro via Unsplash

California Congressmember Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, proposed legislation late last week to defund syringe exchange programs. The proposal, that would reinstate a federal ban on funding for syringe exchange programs, would be a blow to public health resources.

In a statement LaMalfa wrote that such programs are “doing nothing to get people off drugs, and our communities are suffering from these failed initiatives.”

Syringe exchanges programs distribute sanitary drug paraphernalia, disease testing kits, and naloxone --  the opioid overdose reversal drug -- free and anonymously to drug users. They also provide outreach and materials for drug users to get help. Federal funds can’t be used to pay for syringes but they’re typically given out, too.

The goal of syringe exchange programs, also known as needle exchanges, is to stop the spread of blood-transmitted diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oversees federal funds for syringe programs. The agency lists 44 states as at-risk of “significant increases in hepatitis infection or HIV outbreak,” including California and Oregon.

Syringe exchange programs are known to save lives and prevent the spread of diseases but they remain controversial. The past ban on federal funds for syringe exchanges was lifted in 2016 in light of rising numbers of blood-transmitted diseases spurred by the opioid epidemic.

Neither Representative LaMalfa or officials from the California Department of Public Health were available for comment.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.