Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 1998


IN A DISPLAY of political timidity the Clinton administration yesterday
refused federal funding for needle exchange programs, while conceding
exchanges reduce AIDS transmission and don't encourage illegal drug use.

``A meticulous scientific review has now proven that needle exchange
programs can reduce the transmission of HIV and save lives without losing
ground in the battle against illegal drugs,'' said Health and Human
Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

But even with that unequivocal endorsement, she said the federal government
will not pay to let drug addicts exchange used needles for clean ones. She
advised local communities to pay for their own needle exchange programs.

That was a craven bit of political double-talk from Shalala whose mission
is to protect the health of the nation, when she knows that nearly 40
percent of all AIDS cases reported in the United States have been linked to
illegal intravenous drug use.

And, according to her own department's statistics, 70 percent of HIV/AIDS
infections among women of childbearing age are directly or indirectly
related to intravenous drug use and more than 75 percent of infected babies
had a parent who used needles. A Clinton administration official said the
decision not to fund the programs ias made by Shalala after consultation
with the White House.

Stunned AIDS activists asked how federal public health officials could say
needle exchanges work, but refuse to fund them.

``This is obviously immoral to say we know how to save lives but we are not
going to let federal funds be used for that purpose,'' said Dr. R. Scott
Hitt, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on AIDS. ``Americans
should ask why,'' said Hitt, the administration's top AIDS advisor,
appointed by President Clinton.

By refusing to fund needle exchange programs that have proven to work in
nearly a hundred cities -- including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose --
the Clinton administration has shamefully chosen political expedience over
human welfare.

)1998 San Francisco Chronicle