Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Contact:  213-237-4712
Pubdate: Wed, 22 Apr 1998


Clinton administration officials would have us believe they took a sensible
middle road on Monday, producing incontrovertible evidence that needle
exchange programs save lives but not going so far as to lift a prohibition
on the use of federal funds for the controversial programs. Health and
Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, administration officials argued,
would never have been able to gain approval for needle exchange programs
from a skeptical Congress.

In fact, what the Clinton administration presented as moderation was really
evasion, for Shalala's department has not needed congressional approval
since 1990, when Congress granted it authority to lift a ban on needle
funding provided it could demonstrate just what Shalala announced Monday:
that needle exchange programs lower the spread of HIV and do not increase
substance abuse.

The administration's decision to maintain the funding ban will surely cost
lives, for injection drug users compose the group in which AIDS is
spreading most rampantly.

According to Surgeon General David Satcher, tainted needles account for 75%
of all new AIDS infections among women and children and for 40% of all new
AIDS infections overall.

Generous funding for needle exchange programs already exists.

About $630 million is doled out yearly by the Centers for Disease Control
for regional AIDS programs, and civic groups like the U.S. Conference of
Mayors have asked Shalala to let them spend some of that money on needle
exchange programs.

Some legislators understandably object to the notion of the federal
government handing out needles to substance abusers.

The programs, however, don't stop at handing out needles; their primary aim
is attracting and then treating the sort of substance abusers whom public
health officials would otherwise have difficulty finding, and an abuser
untreated is a threat to others. Ideally, substance abusers would flock to
treatment without any incentives. But
this is the real world: Thirty-three Americans are infected each day with
AIDS because of injection drug use. Needle exchange programs could change
those sad numbers.

Copyright Los Angeles Times