Source: Standard-Times (MA) 
Pubdate: Sun 5, Apr 1998
Author: Associated Press


BOSTON -- Advocates of the state's needle exchange program say the effort
to check the spread of AIDS without encouraging drug use works so well
here, it should be implemented everywhere.

The pitch for the program that allows addicts to swap dirty needles for
clean ones is directed at U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Donna
Shalala. It comes just as a moratorium on federal funding for such programs
has expired.

"This is definitely an opportunity for people to express their views and do
some organizing now," John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston
Public Health Commission, told a Boston newspaper.

The needle exchange program was launched four years ago in the state. HIV,
the virus that causes AIDS, can be transmitted by dirty needles shared by
drug users.

Activists and health care providers who favor clean-needle exchange say
studies show the program doesn't lead to an increase in drug use.

In fact, they say, it has the opposite effect. One out of every five people
who participated in the program in Boston or Cambridge over the past three
years was referred to drug treatment, according to Auerbach. Department of
Public Health records show that 3,500 to 6,000 people use needle exchanges
each year, and about 600 of them are referred for treatment.

One needle exchange program at the Family Planning Council of Western
Massachusetts in Northampton served 195 people and successfully referred 88
of them to drug treatment programs.

Some of the studies that suggested needle exchange has curtailed the spread
of HIV while leading addicts into recovery were federally funded.

"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.

A group of AIDS activists plans to demonstrate in favor of needle exchange
on Tuesday morning when U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher is scheduled to
speak in support of the program at the USS Constitution at the Charlestown
Navy Yard.

Critics of the program argue that the government should encourage addicts
to change their lifestyles rather than spend money supplying them with
clean needles.

Anything other than abstinence sends the wrong message to young people,
according to Robert Maginnis of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research

But statistics prove the program saves lives, according to Robert
Greenwald, director of public policy and legal affairs for the AIDS Action
Committee in Boston.

Greenwald cited studies by the General Accounting Office in 1993,
University of California in 1993, and the National Research Council.