Skip to main content.

Needle Exchange Budget Cuts: A Blow to Public Health

Needle Exchange Budget Cuts: A Blow to Public Health

Picture of R. Jan Gurley

needle exchange, doc gurley, jan gurley, addiction, drug abuse, public health, reporting on health

Public health, particularly for the homeless and disenfranchised, just took a big step backward.

Pushed by hardball GOP tactics in negotiating the funding of federal government operations for 2012, federal funding for needle exchange programs nationwide was removed from the 2012 budget.  This is a huge blow for public health.

Needle exchange is a simple concept. For all the furor and energy and debate that surround it, the bottom line is beautifully concise: if we safely take dirty drug injection needles out of our community, we all benefit. And that concept has been proven true, over and over and over and over again.

By preventing outbreaks of disease down the line, spending a little money now saves spending more money later. It's essentially equivalent to preventative maintenance on a car engine. Without needle exchange programs, we may well see a rise in HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases. That will end up costing the nation more than the costs of these inexpensive and highly effective programs.

Needle exchange programs offer dignity and compassion to people whom the world, in general, no longer sees or acknowledges. Needle exchange may be saving all of us whopping amounts of money through "cost-effective" years-of-life-saved and (literally) 500 overdoses reversed here in San Francisco and untold numbers of HIV and Hepatitis C infections prevented.

The current national healthcare debate has on one side a group that decries preventative healthcare measures as unnecessary and "expensive." That approach ignores the ripple on effects on the rest of the economy when people get sick and as a result have higher healthcare costs at the same time as their ability to contribute economically declines.

Removing funding from needle exchange programs is a classic example of that kind of short-sighted thinking.

Related Posts:

Substance Abuse: High Costs

Living and dying in the Tenderloin: Substance abuse and Nate

Blog: Doc Gurley's Urban Health Beat

Photo credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr

Leave A Comment


This month marks the sober anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, which ignited global protests and renewed efforts to reform or dismantle policing. In our next webinar, we’ll examine the price society pays for a criminal-legal system that disproportionately arrests, punishes and kills Black people. And we’ll look at how reporters can best cover this evolving story in original and powerful ways. Sign-up here!

As public health officials like to say, "COVID-19 isn't done with us." And journalists know that we're not done with COVID-19. Apply now for five days of stimulating discussions on the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color -- plus reporting and engagement grants of $2k-$10k and five months of mentoring while you work on an ambitious project.

Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 



Follow Us



CHJ Icon