Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 Source: Seattle-Times (WA) Contact: http://seattletimes.com/ Author: Adam C. Holland, Chicago Tribune NEEDLE EXCHANGE ENDORSED, BUT NO FEDERAL FUNDING WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration yesterday endorsed needle-exchange programs as an effective step to fight AIDS but withheld the support that AIDS activists wanted most: federal funds. In a long-awaited statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said programs that let drug addicts exchange used needles for clean ones can reduce the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, and do not encourage illegal drug use, based on extensive scientific research. But she said the decision to implement and fund the programs rests with local communities. Avoiding a fight with conservatives, the administration kept in place the ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs. AIDS activists, who had hoped recent research and their active lobbying would lift the barriers to obtaining federal money, denounced the administration's decision. "The Earth is not flat, the moon is not made of cheese, and needle exchange does not create drug addiction," said Daniel Zingale of AIDS Action, referring to findings of a 1997 National Institutes of Health study. "But tragically, it's like saying, `We acknowledge the Earth is not flat, but we won't fund Columbus' voyage.' " More than half of all new HIV cases, averaging 33 people a day, can be attributed to direct or indirect contact with an injecting drug user. Public-health groups have long argued that needle-exchange programs can help to reduce the risk, and 88 such programs operate with local, state or private funding.