Needle-Exchange Backers Arrested

Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:07pm

More than two dozen activists were arrested this morning while protesting a federal ban on syringe-exchange programs.

Twenty-nine demonstrators were taken into custody, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider.

Ten were arrested for rallying on the House side of the Capitol at the office of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). They have been charged with “unlawful entry.” Visitors lacking credentials are not allowed beyond the Capitol Visitor Center without an escort.

The other 19 were charged with “demonstrating within a Capitol Building” — in this case the Rayburn House Office Building. Ten were at the personal office of House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), and nine were lobbying Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

A long-standing, nationwide ban on federal funds for syringe-exchange programs was reinstated in the fiscal 2012 spending bill enacted last December. Opponents of such programs say they enable drug users, who take advantage of the initiatives to access clean needles. Proponents say the programs spare drug users from life-threatening illnesses and are often accompanied by medical counseling and other services.

The protests coincided with a national day of action in support of syringe-exchange programs.

“Our government should be embarrassed as this year’s host of the International AIDS Conference to have sneaked this into an unrelated bill under the cloak of night last December” said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works Inc., an organization involved in the demonstrations.