Pubdate:  Thu, 21 Aug 1997

Source: LA Times,  Houston Chronicle
 page 7A
Contact:  Words are exchanged over needle program

By KASPER ZEUTHEN, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON  Fearing that the ban on federal funds for needle
exchange programs might be lifted, opponents Wednesday warned
Congress and the Clinton administration that a majority of the
public is against reversing the current policy.

Needleexchange programs are "a dopey idea," said Gary Bauer,
president of the Family Research Council, a conservative interest
organization, as he held up a handful of syringes. "Congress and
the Clinton administration would make a radical mistake to flirt
with the idea of needleexchange programs as sound and effective

But supporters of such programs held their own news conference in
Washington on Wednesday, saying that removing HIVcontaminated
syringes from circulation and replacing them with sterile ones
had proven the most effective form of AIDS prevention among drug

"Here is a lifesaver  this is what will save lives," said
Mohamad Akhter, executive director of the American Public Health
Association, as he also held up a syringe.

Federal funding of programs that provide drug users with clean
needles when they turn in used ones has been banned by Congress
since 1988. But Health and Human Services Secretary Donna
Shalala, who has the power to lift the ban, recently said that
needleexchange programs slow the spread of HIV  which some saw
as an indication she may reverse the existing policy. Moreover, a
growing chorus of voices has recently urged her to take that
action. Led by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and San
Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, the U.S. Conference of Mayors
recently urged an end to the federal ban, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi,
DCalif., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require
Shalala to act. Also, the American Bar Association is on record
backing needleexchange programs.

Eleven states still ban such programs. Thus, even if the federal
ban on funding was be lifted, legislation at the state level
would still be needed to clear the way for needleexchange

Countering Bauer at the dueling Washington news conferences were
members of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now  a grass
roots coalition of syringeexchange providers, AIDS service
organizations, churches and community organizations.

"Tragically, it is politically expedient to falsely construe
needle exchange as an endorsement of illegal drug use," said
coalition coordinator Chris Lanier. "In the real world, users
engaged in needleexchange programs are more likely to enter
treatment, and such programs have provided important access to
services for those battling addiction."

Lanier cited competing polls that have shown broad support for
needleexchange programs.

He added: "We expect nothing less than a public health policy
which will take every opportunity to slow the spread of HIV. And
we hold our leaders fully accountable for the lives of the
American men, women and children which hang in the balance 
subject to a decision to lift the ban now."