Pubdate: Sat, 13 Dec 2008
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2008 Globe Newspaper Company
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Representative Jim Ramstad, a Republican from Minnesota, is said to be
a candidate for drug czar in the Obama administration. This would take
bipartisanship one step too far, at the expense of public health.

Ramstad, who is retiring after 18 years in office, gets high marks for
working with a Democratic colleague, Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island,
to require insurers to cover mental health and addiction treatment
(the two men are alcohol recovery partners). But Ramstad has also
voted repeatedly against federal funding for needle exchange programs
for drug users to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. Washington's paralysis
on this issue goes back to when President Clinton let his drug czar,
Barry McCaffrey, sabotage funding efforts by Donna Shalala, then
secretary of Health and Human Services. McCaffrey hyperbolically
called clean-needle programs "magnets for all social ills." In 2002,
Clinton admitted that "I was wrong" not to lift the funding ban.

A study this fall in The Lancet found that only 1.5 percent of
injecting drug users in Australia have HIV, compared with 16 percent
in the United States. "That's largely because we acted very quickly in
the 1980s to implement methadone programs and needle exchange programs
when other countries like the US were dragging their heels," study
author Bradley Mathers of Australia's National Drug and Alcohol
Research Center told the Associated Press. Anthony Fauci, director for
infectious disease at the National Institutes of Health, flatly says,
"needle exchange programs work. There's no doubt about that."

The Centers for Disease Control says the national HIV infection rate
is now 40 percent higher than previously thought. Injection drug use
causes 12 percent of new infections. Obama, a supporter of needle
exchange, has no time to thread the needle with his drug czar.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin