Pubdate: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 Source: LA Times, Houston Chronicle page 7A (http://www.chron.com/cgibin/auth/story/content/chronicle/nation/ 97/08/21/needles.20.html) 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 policy." 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 users. "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 programs. 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."