New York Times (NY) Contact: http://www.nytimes.com/ Pubdate: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 COWARDICE ON CLEAN NEEDLES In a calculated duck, the Clinton Administration has refused to lift a nine-year-old ban on using Federal money to finance needle exchange programs. Officials readily admit that repeated studies have shown needle exchange programs can help prevent the spread of AIDS without encouraging illegal drug use. But Barry McCaffrey, the Administration's drug czar, continues to insist that needle exchange programs send a message to children that drugs are acceptable. His preoccupation with symbolism flies in the face of brutal facts. The Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, says that 40 percent of all new H.I.V. infections are directly or indirectly caused by contaminated needles, including cases in infants born to infected drug abusers or their infected spouses. The Administration hoped that by keeping the current ban, liftable at White House discretion, it could fend off more repressive legislation. But conservatives in Congress are poised to offer anti-needle-exchange bills anyway. Instead of making a principled decision, President Clinton is fecklessly trying to appease conservatives with a policy that will cost thousands of lives.