Source: Reuters Author: Patrick Connole Pubdate: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 END TO U.S. NEEDLE EXCHANGE FUNDS BAN URGED WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of House Democrats and health experts Friday urged the Clinton administration to lift a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs when a moratorium ends next week. Last year, Congress imposed a ban on using federal monies for such exchanges until March 31. After March 31, federal funding for needle exchange projects may proceed if Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala determines that they are effective in preventing the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS, and do not promote illegal drug use. Proponents of lifting the ban said city-operated programs and government studies offered proof that drug addicts using clean needles were far less likely to contract AIDS, and were more apt to enter drug rehabilitation. "The science is in. The findings are clear. The administration has the evidence," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, at a Capitol Hill news conference. "There is a consensus statement from a distinguished National Institutes of Health panel affirming that needle exchange prevents HIV infections and does not promote drug abuse," Pelosi said. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, joined Pelosi and Washington D.C.-area health experts in calling for an end to the ban. However, many influential congressional Republicans fear needle exchange programs could result in increased drug use by making clean needles more readily available. Two weeks ago, President Clinton's AIDS "czar" Sandra Thurman pledged to work on the needle exchange effort but acknowledged the issue was complicated by the need to curb increasing drug addiction. A 32-member White House advisory panel on AIDS faulted the administration in December for failing to push for the removal of the federal fund ban on needle exchanges. Pelosi and Cummings last year introduced legislation to require the administration to make grants to states and counties for such programs. To be eligible for funding, localities must show that exchange projects were part of a larger program to prevent the spread of HIV and refer users to substance abuse treatment and other medical and social support services. Copyright © 1998 Reuters Limited.