Source: Wisconsin State Journal (WI) Author: Dean Mosiman, City Government Reporter Contact: Website: http://www.madison.com/ Pubdate: Fri, 03 Apr 1998 AIDS PREVENTION WORKERS BEGIN NEEDLE EXCHANGE AIDS prevention workers will take a van to Madison's South Side today and distribute the first of tens of thousands of free needles to drug abusers. The most ambitious needle exchange effort ever is intended to slow HIV infection among an estimated 1,500 injection drug users in greater Madison and their sexual partners. The AIDS Network of Madison contracted with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin to deliver the Lifepoint program. It will provide 70,000 clean needles the first year and 100,000 annually afterward, center director Doug Nelson said. ``Our purpose is to save lives,'' Nelson said. ``We will reduce the HIV infection rate and help hundreds of people remain HIV free.'' National data show half of new HIV infections are traced to injection drug use, experts said. ``Needle exchange is an absolutely essential part of a comprehensive AIDS strategy in Madison,'' AIDS network director Mary Turnquist said. In addition to one-for-one needle exchanges, the program offers counseling, 000 . 0002.08 treatment referrals, and HIV care and support. It has operated for four years in Milwaukee and Racine, where a million needles have been swapped. Madison Mayor Sue Bauman applauds the effort, which requires no formal city approval because needle exchanges are exempt from drug paraphernalia laws. ``Anything we can do to rid society of AIDS, the better off we are,'' Bauman said. The city has a limited needle exchange program run from clinics, Bauman said. The Lifepoint van, staffed by two AIDS prevention counselors, will be accessible to drug users throughout the city. ``We go out where the drug users are,'' Nelson said. The van will initially operate twice weekly, and start at unidentified spot on the South Side, Nelson said. It will eventually visit other parts of the city and make regular stops, he said. Lifepoint chooses spots that won't trouble residents and that are away from schools, churches and public facilities, Nelson stressed. And it's not a drug enforcement trap, Bauman said. The privately funded effort will initially cost about $30,000 a year and should reach about 400 of the region's 1,500 users, Nelson said.