Source:   USA TODAY page1D
Contact:    June 13, 1997

Funding urged for needle exchanges

By Steve Sternberg

More than 50 major health, advocacy and minority groups have written a letter
to President Clinton urging him to lift a ban on funding AIDS programs that
allow drug users to swap dirty needles for clean ones.

The groups, including the American Public Health Association and the National
Urban League, say lifting the ban would help heal race relations. The plea
comes as Clinton prepares for a commencement address on race relations
Saturday at the University of California, San Diego.

AIDS is "the single largest cause of death among blacks and Latinos between
the ages of 25 and 44," the letter says. More than half of the deaths are
linked to drug abuse.

The ban was approved in 1989 by a Congress fearful that needle exchange would
promote drug abuse. But the secretary of Health and Human Services can lift
the ban if studies show the programs curb AIDS without promoting drug abuse.

HHS Secretary Donna Shalala acknowledged in February that the programs work.
She didn't say they met the second test, but AIDS expert Peter Lurie of the
University of CaliforniaSan Francisco, who signed the letter, says seven
federally funded reviews "demonstrate that those criteria have been met."

HHS spokesman Victor Zonana said Thursday the matter is under review. 

Lurie reported recently in the journal _Lancet_ that as many as 10,000 people
could have been spared HIV infection by needle exchange programs between 1987
and 1995; caring for those sick people cost the nation $500 million.