Pubdate:  Thu, 21 Aug 1997
Source:   USA TODAY
Page 3A

Needle exchanges still stir debate

Programs slow AIDS, but some say bad message is sent

By Gary Fields

Respected organizations such as the American Bar Association and American
Medical Association have endorsed needleexchange programs as a way to combat

But critics, including the Clinton administration, say such programs
encourage drug abuse and send the wrong message to the nation's youth. 

In 29 states and the District of Columbia, 112 programs provide intravenous
drugs users with clean syringes. A soontobereleased report by the
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials says more than 14
million syringes were distributed in 1996.

The exchange programs were established after a link was found between the
sharing of needles by intravenous drug users and the transmission of
bloodborne diseases and the virus that causes AIDS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, 36%
of the 573,000 cases of AIDS among adults reported through December 1996 were
the result of intravenous drug use.

In addition to reducing the incidence of AIDS, supporters of needleexchange
programs say the practice also brings drug abusers into regular contact with
counselors, who often can steer them into drug treatment programs.

But opponents say that providing free syringes to addicts only encourages the
addicts to continue using drugs and also suggests that such drug use is

Most states require prescriptions to buy syringes, which typically are used
by individuals to inject themselves with insulin and other prescription
medicines. Only Connecticut sells syringes over the counter and does not
consider them illegal paraphernalia.

David Purchase of the North American Syringe Network says a study of a
program in Tacoma, Wash., shows that the percentage of intravenous drug users
who tested positive for HIV has dropped by a third since the program started
in 1988. Purchase says the study also shows that those in the group now are
four times less likely to contract hepatitis B and 65% less likely to be
infected or reinfected with hepatitis C.

"We have scientific proof that syringe exchanges help reduce the incidence of
HIV and other bloodtransmitted disease," Purchase says.

The Family Research Council, a conservative family policy organization that
lobbies on issues such as sex education, opposes needle exchanges.

On Wednesday, it released the findings of a survey it commissioned, in which
51% of 1,000 people surveyed said that they think the programs are

"The American people are saying, 'Look, Congress, we don't want this,'" the
council's Robert Maginnis says. "We're all concerned about the AIDS epidemic,
but it must be handled with good public policy."

Administration antidrug czar Barry McCaffrey says that at a time when he is
pushing for a $170 million ad campaign to keep teens off drugs, syringe
exchanges send "the wrong message."

The federal government provides no funding for needle exchange programs. And
only a handful of states provide funds. In most cases, the costs of the
programs are covered by private organizations.
Contributing: Andrea L. Mays