Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 Source 1: Standard-Times (MA) Contact: http://www.s-t.com/ Author: Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press writer Note: The same article appeared in the The Herald, Everett (WA) entitled: "White House Rejects Financing Needle Exchanges" their email ADMINISTRATION BACKS OFF SUPPORT FOR NEEDLE EXCHANGE WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration refused yesterday to use federal tax dollars to buy clean needles for drug addicts, even though it said needle exchanges fight AIDS without encouraging illegal drug use. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said her scientific endorsement should encourage more communities to start their own needle exchanges. But Shalala, under orders from the White House, sidestepped a political fight with conservatives and stopped short of providing communities with federal money to let addicts swap dirty needles for clean ones. Half of all people who catch HIV are infected by needles or by sex with intravenous-drug users, or are children of infected addicts. The decision bitterly disappointed AIDS activists, who said they couldn't recall another medical program the government had declared lifesaving but refused to try to pay for. "They've now said we know how to save lives and we don't want to do what's necessary to save the lives," said an angry Dr. Scott Hitt, chairman of President Clinton's AIDS advisory council. "This administration is now publicly stating how to slow it (the AIDS epidemic) down and is saying they lack the courage to do it." "It's like saying the world is not flat but not funding Columbus' voyage," added Daniel Zingale of AIDS Action. Republicans continued to argue that needle exchanges were bad policy, and Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., said he would push for Congress to ban federal funding altogether in case Shalala changed her mind. "Why not simply provide heroin itself, free of charge, courtesy of the American taxpayer?" asked Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo. President Clinton's own drug policy chief, Barry McCaffrey, spent the weekend arguing that needle exchanges jeopardize the administration's war on drugs and send the wrong message to children. Officials familiar with the heated debate said McCaffrey's objections were central to killing a proposed compromise, a pilot project paying for needle exchanges in 10 cities. Asked about the criticisms, National Institutes of Health Director Harold Varmus said that they were being made only by politicians, not scientists. Every major public health organization has supported needle exchanges. The Clinton administration is counting on Shalala's endorsement to persuade communities to expand the 110 needle exchanges now operating in 22 states. And Surgeon General David Satcher suggested communities could avoid the political impasse: Seek federal dollars for all other HIV prevention activities, from youth education to drug treatment, so that local money could be directed to buy needles. When asked if more funding would help, Satcher responded: "Yes, we think we would save more lives." The nation's top science organizations have long said needle exchanges would cut the AIDS toll. Activists say federal funding is key to expanding the programs. But Congress banned federally funded needle exchanges unless Shalala certified that such programs fight the spread of HIV without encouraging drug use. Monday, Shalala did that, saying a review of studies concluded that programs that provide drug counseling and push addicts into treatment work best.