Source: The Herald, Everett, WA Contact: Tue, 09 Dec 1997 Website: http://www.heraldnet.com/ Health Board Should Keep Needle Exchange Program The countywide Snohomish Health Board will decide today whether to continue an inexpensive needle exchange program aimed at saving lives. Since lives are just a valuable now as a year ago, the board should keep the program in operation. If the past is any guide, the board will be divided. There are legitimate reasons for board members to ask whether providing needles somehow endorses illegal drug use. Studies show that the fear is unfounded. Repeated examinations of both needle exchanges and condom programs have failed to demonstrate any increase in drug use or sexual activity. Needle exchanges do, however, cut the spread of blood borne diseases, including AIDS. They also provide outreach workers the chance to educate needle recipients and move them toward therapy and drug treatment. Those efforts constitute the true message of the program: a positive statement for live and for healthy, moral lifestyles. The county spends $10,000 per year to have a private contractor operate the program. Medical treatment for a single case of AIDS can easily run $175,000. Those figures make prevention economical, as well as lifesaving. In the first nine months of this year, the program resulted in referrals of more than 700 people to drug treatment programs. Approximately 80,000 needles were exchanged over that time period, creating real protection for many people. At the same time, the exchange helps keep needles out of public parks and trash, because used needles must be returned in order for the drug user to obtain new ones. In countless ways, public officials here and across the country have clearly delivered the message that illegal drug usage is dangerous and unacceptable. There's no risk of mixed messages created by showing a simple desire to save lives through needle exchanges. A variety of approaches, from punishment to treatment, are needed in discouraging people from engaging in illegal drug use. Despite society's increasing efforts, however, illegal drugs continue to be injected by some addicts. And they won't stop simply because clean needles aren't available. The needle exchange program offers a proven avenue for building trust and persuading drug users into treatment programs. Until they take better control of their lives, however, they are at extreme risk if they share needles. Nationally, more than onethird of adult AIDS cases involve drug injections. That's a risk which studies have shown is substantially reduced in areas where needle exchange programs operate. With its successes in getting people into drug treatment, the exchange program not only saves lives but also changes them. And those are the reasons the board ought to continue the needle exchange.