Source: Associated Press
Author: Lauran Neergaard
Pubdate: 16 March 1998


WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton's AIDS advisers demanded Monday that the
administration immediately allow local communities to fight the deadly virus
by spending federal money on clean needles for drug addicts.

Saying 33 people every day catch the AIDS virus directly from a dirty
needle, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS issued its harshest
criticism yet of the Clinton administration's refusal to federally fund
needle-exchange programs - despite scientific consensus that they work.

``Lack of political will can no longer justify ignoring the science,'' the
council wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala Monday.
``Every day that goes by means more needless new infections and more human

Ignoring these programs ``would be an abdication of your responsibilities,''
they wrote Shalala.

On Tuesday, the 30-member council was to vote on a resolution expressing no
confidence in the administration's ability to stop HIV's spread - and
members predicted a unanimous vote. They also were drafting a letter to
Clinton expressing their growing frustration.

``We're angry,'' said Dr. Scott Hitt, chairman of the influential council
and a Los Angeles physician.

Clinton officials ignored earlier warnings, said Robert Fogel, a Chicago
lawyer and Clinton fund-raiser. If they don't listen this time, ``we all are
going to have to seriously consider calling for the secretary to resign, or
ourselves resigning'' in protest, he said.

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 half of all people newly infected with HIV got 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.

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.