Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 1998
Source: Seattle-Times (WA)
Author:  Adam C. Holland, Chicago Tribune


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.