Source: Standard-Times (MA) Contact: http://www.s-t.com Pubdate: Sun 5, Apr 1998 Author: Associated Press NEEDLE EXCHANGE SUCCEEDING IN BOSTON 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 Council. 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.