In December, President Obama repealed the 21-year-old ban on federal financing for programs that give drug users access to clean needles. Almost nothing has happened since, says the New York Times in an editorial, because the Department of Health and Human Services still has not issued the new rules that states and localities need before they can use any federal money to expand existing exchange programs or start new ones. Congress voted to withhold federal money from these life-saving programs in 1988 when it was already clear that clean needles slowed the spread of H.I.V. and other blood-borne diseases without contributing to addiction.
Researchers found that state-financed needle-exchange programs in New York City cut the infection rate of H.I.V. among addicts by about 80 percent by giving them clean syringes and enrolling them in drug treatment programs. State and local health officials are eager for the new rules so they can move forward. They are especially worried about how the new rules will interpret a provision of the statute that gives local police departments some say in where needle-exchange programs can be located. It is important to protect the interests of local residents and businesses, but forcing exchange sites to the far edges of a city or town would utterly defeat their purpose, says the Times.