Source: New York Times Contact: Sun, 17 Aug 1997 NEW YORK (AP) Financier George Soros said he will donate $1 million to purchase clean hypodermic needles for drug addicts nationwide who risk contracting AIDS. Soros challenged government leaders to ``respect the scientific evidence'' that needle exchange programs curb the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Critics have said his programs encourage drug use. ``Needle exchange programs are scientifically proven to save lives, do not encourage drug use, and are supported by a majority of the American public,'' Soros said in a statement Sunday. The Federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that intravenous drug users, their children and sex partners accounted for over onethird of the new cases of HIV infection. Soros told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday that he did not support legalizing drugs. But he said they were practically impossible to outlaw, so he proposed trying to reduce the harm that drug users cause themselves. Soros, whose philanthropy has supported democratic movements in Eastern Europe and Asia, also funded ballot initiatives last year that let California and Arizona voters approve the medicinal use of marijuana. Soros said he has spent more than $15 million in the past few years trying to foster a public dialogue on drug policy. Opponents of needle exchange programs said Soros' message is wrongheaded. ``I think he needs to be very careful about promoting drug use, which is what he's doing,'' Robert L. Maginnis of the Family Research Council told the Times. Soros said he will give his new gift to the Tides Foundation, a San Franciscobased grants program which will distribute the money to needle exchange programs around the country. He recently announced spending $25 million in Baltimore over the next five years to promote economic development and social service programs.