Pubdate: Friday, September 12, 1997 
 Page A2         
Source:  San  Francisco Chronicle

WASHINGTON  Needle Exchange Programs Get No Help in House
Vote to block federal funds from being used

     Louis Freedberg, Chronicle Washington Bureau


The House of Representatives voted yesterday to prohibit
the use of federal funds for needle exchanges programs
to prevent the spread of HIV, a move immediately
denounced by advocacy groups.

``Numerous federally funded studies and organizations
all agree that needle exchange saves lives,'' said
Regina Aragon, director of public policy at the San
Francisco AIDS Foundation. ``Congress has put politics
before health, and as a result, thousands more will
become infected with HIV.''

By a 266to158 vote, the House took aim at current law
that allows the secretary of health and human services
to lift a 3yearold congressional ban on using federal
funds to provide clean needles to injecting drug users.

The law permits the secretary to lift the ban if there
is sufficient evidence that needle exchange programs
prevent the spread of HIV and at the same time do not
promote drug use.

The House voted on an amendment originally written by
Representative Tom Coburn, ROkla., which was attached
to the $80 billion appropriations bill for the
departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human
Services. The amendment was apparently motivated by
fears that the administration was moving closer to
lifting the ban.

In February, Health Secretary Donna Shalala released an
internal review of needle exchange programs that seemed
to provide the scientific proof needed to lift the ban.
``There is ample evidence that needle exchange programs
save lives without encouraging illegal drug use,'' said
Seth Kilbourn of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington
advocacy organizations. ``But a majority of the House
decided not to let the facts get in the way of
demagoguing the issue.'' But the House action is still
far from becoming law. The Senate has not passed a
similar measure, and its fate will be decided sometime
over the next two weeks in HouseSenate conference

Advocacy groups have long been pressuring the
administration to lift the ban, but it has been
reluctant to give any sign that it is lenient on drug
use. Despite the ban, over 100 communities around the
country have instituted their own needle exchange
programs without federal funds.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation HIV Prevention Project
is the largest needle exchange program in the United
States, exchanging 2.1 million needles annually. But
officials say it could be even more effective with
federal money. The House also passed another amendment
on a 270to150 vote to expand restrictions on the use
of federal funds for abortions to cover Medicaid
contracts for managed care. Currently, federal funds
cannot be used to pay for abortions under Medicaid,
except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's

     _ The Chronicle Publishing Company