Pubdate: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 Source: Boston Globe Contact: A21 WASHINGTON (Reuter) For Winnie Fairchild, the needle exchange program at Washington's WhitmanWalker Clinic came just a little too late. A former drug user, Fairchild says she would not be HIVpositive had she had access to clean needles. ``Had this needle exchange program been around when I was a drug user, I would not be a client of this clinic,'' she told reporters. ``The people I shot drugs with, four out of five of them are HIV positive,'' she added. Conservative policy groups and AIDS action groups held competing news conferences Wednesday to demand the government clarify its policy on the programs. The conservatives want a continued ban on using federal funds for them, while AIDS groups want President Clinton to take a clear lead in funding them. Groups including the Family Research Council, which speaks out on issues ranging from sex education to crime, say they fear needle exchange programs send a message that taking drugs is okay and want the government to work to stop all drug use. But Fairchild, who has a personal stake in a deepening debate over needleexchange programs, said their approach was naive. ``A person, if they want to shoot drugs, they are going to shoot drugs anyway,'' said the 39yearold, robustlooking mother of three who now works at the clinic. Butb James Curtis, director of psychiatry and addiction services at Harlem Hospital Medical Center in New York, held that needle exchange programs put more needles on the street. ``As soon as one of these addicts uses his clean needle, that needle becomes a dangerous weapon,'' he told the Family Research Council's news conference. ``They cannot be expected to handle these needles responsibly.'' U.S. health officials say more than 14 million syringes were distributed last year through such programs, many of them unofficial and unapproved. Fairchild said the programs saved money. ``This costs seven cents,'' she said, brandishing one of the clean needles that users are offered at her clinic. ``Here's the bill for my drugs for just one month. It's $1,040.13.''