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Written by Jessica Alaimo | December 2, 2012
To help identify cost savings, a team appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo has identified populations who could be helped with changes to the program while savings are achieved. One of these populations is drug users, and one tactic identified is to fund syringe exchange programs.
“Syringe exchange is a bridge to other health care services,” said Sean Barry, spokesman for the advocacy group Voices of Community Activists and Leaders New York, a group that advocates for people affected by AIDS. “There’s no question that it’s effective public health intervention.”
Medicaid can’t fund syringe exchanges unless federal law changes, however. Right now federally-funded entities are banned from providing the service. In 2009, President Barack Obama lifted the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges, only to have Congress put it right back into place.
Disease by needle injection is likely to become a bigger issue, Barry said, because of the prescription drug abuse epidemic. As people can’t get access to these drugs, they turn to injecting heroin, often by unsafe practices.
Both Barry and Constantakes hope federal law will change so Medicaid funds can be used for these exchanges, however Barry said a federally funded syringe exchange program could present a problem. Right now exchanges are able to operate by providing clients anonymity, which might be an issue if the service is tied into Medicaid, Barry said.