Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Joseph Perkins, The San Diego Union-Tribune, A NEEDLE EXCHANGE WILL DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD

San Diego moved a step closer this week to joining the ranks of America's 
Sodoms and Gomorrahs; cities that blithely hand out hypodermic needles to 
junkies, damning them to their deadly addictions.

What particularly offends is that the moral relativists on San Diego's City 
Council insist they are somehow making a bow to compassion. By providing 
the city's 20,000 or so intravenous drug users with clean needles, they 
reason, they reduce the prospect that these hard-core druggies will 
contract HIV.

Alas, this is what passes for enlightened public policy-making not only in 
America's sixth-largest city, but in cities throughout the once-fair land. 
No longer do city leaders attempt to discourage pathology -- like drug 
abuse. They aspire to nothing more ambitious than "harm reduction."

So they offer needles and syringes to any junkie who darkens their doors. 
And while they claim not to condone illegal drug use, they are only too 
willing to enable addicts to pump poison into their bodies.

Indeed, they even pass out "safe crack kits" advising junkies on how best 
to inject crack. And pamphlets instructing junkies in the most prudent way 
to shoot up: "Take care of your veins. Rotate injection sites."

Needle exchange advocates claim that assorted scientific studies "prove" 
the efficacy of distributing needles to junkies.

The most often mentioned "proof" is a 1995 National Academy of Sciences 
report that concluded: "Well-implemented needle exchange programs can be 
effective in preventing the spread of HIV and do not increase the use of 
illegal drugs."

However, in a well-documented 1998 article, published in Policy Review, the 
journal of the Heritage Foundation, Joe Loconte deconstructed the academy 

First of all, the academy conducted no actual research of its own. It 
simply reviewed a number of studies, most of which the academy admitted 
were highly flawed.

In fact, two of three physicians who served on the academy panel that 
issued the needle exchange report said the studies they looked at did not, 
in fact, establish a scientific link between lower HIV rates and needle 

"NEPs may, in theory, be effective," said Dr. Herbert Kleber, of the 
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, "but the data 
doesn't prove that they are."

But there is data out there that is beyond scientific dispute: An 
intravenous drug user is at far greater risk of dying from his or her drug 
habit than from HIV-related causes.

Indeed, a University of Pennsylvania study, which Loconte detailed in his 
Policy Review  article, followed 415 intravenous drug users in Philadelphia 
over four years.

Twenty died during the study, only five from causes associated with HIV. 
The other 23 died from other causes, including overdoses, homicide, heart 
disease, kidney failure, liver disease and suicide.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, medical professors George 
Woody and David Metzger concluded that, compared to the risk of HIV 
infection, the threat of death to drug addicts from other causes is "more 

If needle exchange advocates refuse to believe this, they need only 
consider the deaths of John Watters and Brian Weil. These two prominent 
founders of needle exchange programs died not from HIV-related causes, but 
from heroin overdoses.

Oh well. At least they used clean needles.

And that is precisely the unspoken sentiment of needle exchange advocates, 
for all their professions to the contrary; for all their pretenses of 

It matters not to them if junkies kill themselves on drugs (otherwise, why 
aid and abet their deadly habit?). As long as they don't spread HIV.

This is what putative progressives mean by "harm reduction." But what it 
really amounts to is social nihilism. For it is hardly rational, not to 
mention moral, to deliver a person from one threat to health -- HIV -- only 
to condemn them to another -- drug abuse.

Enlightened city leaders, those who listen to the better angels of their 
nature, would not put themselves in the position of choosing the lesser of 
evils when it comes to the health of those whom they represent.

Rather than provide needles on demand to junkies, hoping they shoot up 
responsibly, they would devote city resources to treatment programs that 
enable drug addicts to overcome their deadly habit.

Perkins can be reached via e-mail at  ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D