Family  Associated Press
Pubdate: Tue, 17 Mar 1998


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In their harshest criticism yet, President Clinton's
AIDS advisers unanimously expressed no confidence in the administration's
commitment to reducing the spread of AIDS because of its failure to fund
programs that give drug addicts clean needles.

They demanded that the administration immediately free federal money for
the needle-exchange programs, which have been proven to prevent the spread
of the deadly virus.

``The administration's current policy on needle exchange programs threatens
the public health, and directly contradicts current scientific evidence,''
said the resolution by the Presidential Council on HIV/AIDS.

It also called on Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to
immediately declare that these programs reduce the spread of HIV without
encouraging drug use.

``Tragically, we must conclude that it is a lack of political will, not
scientific evidence, that is creating this failure to act,'' the council
said in a letter to Clinton today. The council wrote a similar letter
Monday to Shalala.

``We're angry,'' said Dr. Scott Hitt, chairman of the influential council
and a Los Angeles physician, who said 33 people are infected each day
through contaminated needles.

More than half of all people newly infected with HIV catch the deadly virus
through contaminated needles or sex with injecting drug users -- or are
children born to infected addicts.

The nation's leading scientific groups agree that letting addicts exchange
used needles for fresh ones significantly cuts the spread of HIV.

The National Institutes of Health has called needle exchange a powerful
AIDS weapon that has been blocked by political concerns about providing
needles to addicts. And Clinton's own advisers have repeatedly warned the
administration that they are growing frustrated over its refusal to back
federal funding of such programs.

``Every day that goes by means more needless new infections and more human
suffering,'' they wrote Shalala on Monday.

Shalala has said that needle exchanges can effectively fight HIV. But ``we
have not yet concluded that needle-exchange programs do not encourage drug
use,'' said her spokeswoman, Melissa Skolfield.

Until Shalala proves that last issue, Congress has refused to let
communities use their federal AIDS prevention dollars to establish needle

The AIDS advisers said Monday that Shalala could already answer the
drug-use question: ``There is no credible evidence that needle-exchange
programs lead to increased drug abuse,'' they wrote.

``The absence of proof is not the same as proof,'' responded Skolfield, who
said Shalala is awaiting several federal studies of the issue.

More than 80 needle exchanges, paid for by private or other nonfederal
money, already operate in the United States, but AIDS activists say
expanding them will require federal funding.

Congress last fall decided that if Shalala did back needle exchanges,
communities could spend federal dollars on them only after March 31. Hitt
said the approach of that spending date added urgency to his panel's call
for action.