Source: Reuter 6/19/97 Needle exchange programs may limit HIV study LONDON (Reuter) Controversial needle exchange programs do seem to help prevent the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS, Australian researchers said Friday. The value of such programs, which let addicts trade used needles for clean ones, is hotly debated, not least because some critics believe they promote drug use. But Susan Hurley and colleagues at the University of Melbourne said a review of studies on the incidence of HIV indicated they may work to a degree. They reviewed 214 published studies on HIV prevalence in 81 cities in North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. The researchers found HIV infection increased in 58 percent of cities that did not have needleexchange programs and in 48 percent of cities that did. ``A plausible explanation for this difference is that needle exchange programs led to a reduction in HIV incidence among injecting drug users,'' they wrote in a report in the Lancet medical journal. They said their findings were probably complicated by other AIDSprevention programs that some cities operated. A city that had a needleexchange program would almost certainly run other programs aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly virus. ``Despite these limitations, our study provides evidence that needleexchange programs reduce the spread of HIV infection,'' they wrote. U.S. health officials said Thursday that more than 14 million syringes were distributed last year through needle exchange programs, many of them unofficial and unapproved. A 1994 study of New York City drug users concluded that regular participation in needle exchange programs would cut the risk of HIV infection in half. About onethird of U.S. HIV cases are related to injecting drugs. The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of CaliforniaSan Franciso says needle exchange programs cost about $9,400 per infection averted, well below the $119,000 lifetime cost of treating someone infected with HIV. Supporters of needle exchange programs say there is no evidence that they increase drug use.