Source: USA TODAY page1D Contact: June 13, 1997 Funding urged for needle exchanges By Steve Sternberg USA TODAY 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.