Source: Washington Post
Pubdate: Thu, 23 Apr 1998


CLINTON'S latest policy response to a national epidemic -- the spread of
AIDS among intravenous drug users -- is little more than a political fix.
In one breath, the administration is declaring that needle-exchange
programs do help curb the spread of AIDS -- but that no federal funds
should be spent on this approach.

This half-and-half solution, intended to resolve internal policy
disagreements among the president's advisers, puts politics ahead of public

The administration says the announcement does send out an important
message: that even without federal subsidies, the decision that needle
exchanges have scientific merit should assist state and local programs in
securing financial backing.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala reportedly would
have preferred to begin allowing certain programs to qualify for federal
aid -- a reasonable introduction. But those in the administration who
argued that lifting the ban on federal funding would send a bad message
found reinforcements among congressional leaders who said the votes to
uphold needle-exchange funding weren't there -- that pressing a fight could
result in legislation taking other federal money away from groups or
governments that provide free needles.

Secretary Shalala has argued since the announcement that the
administration's endorsement of the approach will include educational
efforts to underscore the findings of all major leading research groups,
public as well as private, that needle exchanges are scientifically sound.
The federal government should have a clear and important role in this
attack on AIDS. Needle exchanges are but part of a broader effort,
including improved drug-abuse prevention and treatment. But study after
study shows that the exchanges do not promote greater use of illegal drugs.
In any event, drug addicts who are not under treatment don't stop their
drug use just because clean needles are unavailable. They will go to
infected needles.

The National Institutes of Health reports that needle exchange has brought
about an estimated 30 percent or greater reduction of HIV in injection
users of illegal drugs.

In terms of money, these programs are a fraction of the lifetime cost of
treating a person with HIV/AIDS. Full support, not White House lip service,
should be a priority.

) Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company