Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune Contact: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 Website: http://www.startribune.com/ Author: Bob Egelko, Associated Press Writer AIDS OFFICIAL BACKS NEEDLE EXCHANGE SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Making a strong statement in favor of needle exchange programs, President Clinton' s AIDS adviser said 33 Americans contract the HIV virus through drug injections every day. " These are not numbers but real lives, " Sandra Thurman said Wednesday in a speech to the National AIDS UPDATE Conference. " I have cradled them in my arms, often in their last moments. I am haunted by the responsibility to use my position to do everything I can to stop this carnage." A congressional moratorium on federal funding for local needle exchange programs expires at the end of March. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala then could order release of funds to communities that have programs exchanging clean needles for contaminated ones, a common source of the AIDS virus. Thurman has been lobbying Shalala to support such programs. Barry McCaffrey, head of the White House Office of National Drug Policy, opposes the programs, contending they promote drug use. Shalala has declined to recommend funding in the past, saying it needed more study. Shalala' s office did not return a telephone call seeking reaction to Thurman' s speech. Thurman' s comments were welcomed Thursday by Daniel Zingale of the advocacy group AIDS Action. The speech " sends a signal that the time is now to let locals get the dirty needles off the street, " he said. " It' s the strongest signal we' ve seen." Last week, Clinton' s Presidential Council on HIV/AIDS unanimously expressed no confidence in the administration' s commitment to reducing the spread of the disease. The council said the refusal to support needle exchanges " threatens the public health and directly contradicts current scientific evidence." Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday she would call on Shalala to lift the funding ban after March 31. " The findings are clear, " she said. " The only thing standing in the way is politics."