Source: Boston Globe (MA) Author: Zachary R. Dowdy, Globe Staff Contact: http://www.boston.com/globe/ Pubdate: Sat, 4 Apr 1998 LOCAL ACTIVISTS TOUT NEEDLE EXCHANGE Success In Fighting Aids Is Noted As Some Urge US To Finance Effort Four years after the state began its first needle exchange program, local public health officials say their success at checking the spread of AIDS - without encouraging drug use - makes a strong case for lifting a ban on federal funding of such programs nationally. The heavy lobbying in favor of clean needle programs comes just as a congressional moratorium on federal funding has expired. The lobbying is directed at US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who must decide whether to align the federal government with program advocates. ''This is definitely an opportunity for people to express their views and do some organizing now,'' said John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. Activists and health care providers in favor of the programs say they have stacks of studies refuting fears of increased drug use when addicts are allowed to swap dirty needles for clean ones. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be passed via contaminated needles. In the past three years, in fact, one out of every five people who received clean needles in Boston or Cambridge was referred to drug treatment, said Auerbach. A stream of studies - some federally funded - conducted during the funding ban suggest that needle exchange programs curb HIV transmission and steer addicts away from back alleys and into treatment without increasing drug use. ''We definitely have demonstrated that, far from being a deterrent for people to seek treatment, needle exchange can actually be a vehicle for people to seek treatment,'' Auerbach said. AIDS activists will demonstrate in support of needle exchange programs on Tuesday morning, when US Surgeon General David Satcher, who supports needle exchange, will speak at the USS Constitution in Charlestown Navy Yard. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, told the Globe on Thursday that Shalala would likely make a decision on the lifting of the ban in the next few months. Critics of the programs, such as Robert Maginnis of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, say the government should pressure addicts ''into safe lifestyles'' instead of financing needle exchanges. Maginnis, senior policy adviser at the council, said anything other than abstinence sends the wrong message to young people, who might interpret federal support for the programs as support for drug use. Backers of the state programs in Boston and Cambridge, Northampton, and Provincetown scoff at that view and say that 10 years of study have proven the programs worthy of federal support. ''The science is overwhelmingly clear that needle exchange programs save lives,'' said Robert Greenwald, director of public policy and legal affairs for the AIDS Action Committee in Boston. He cited a 1993 study by the General Accounting Office, a 1993 study by the University of California, and a study by the National Research Council, among others. Yesterday, state public health commissioner Howard Koh toured the needle exchange program at the Northampton-based Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts to mark the release of a report detailing the program's success since its opening in December 1995. The program in its first year served 195 people, and 88 people were successfully referred to drug treatment programs. The Boston and Cambridge sites, dubbed Addict's Health Opportunity Program and Exchange, see between 3,500 and 6,000 clients each year, with about 600 new enrollees each year. Approximately 600 of the people who came to the program seeking needles were referred to treatment programs, DPH figures show. Federal support could buttress efforts in New Bedford to start a needle exchange program, said Jennifer DeBarros of Treatment on Demand. That organization lost a fight for such a program when New Bedford voters defeated the measure in a referendum. ''People are in data denial,'' she said. ''People don't really want to look at the facts. They want to think that it's not good to give addicts needles.'' © Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.