Source: New York Times (NY) Contact: http://www.nytimes.com/ Pubdate: April 24, 1998 Author: Christopher Wren $1 MILLION PLEDGED FOR NEEDLE EXCHANGES A billionaire financier offered $1 million on a matching basis Thursday to finance the distribution of clean needles to addicts who inject illegal drugs. The money pledged by the financier, George Soros, would go to match increases by other philanthropists and private foundations for what Soros called "these lifesaving programs." Soros announced last August that he was making another $1 million directly available for needle-exchange programs. Explaining his decision at the time, he said: "Very few politicians dare to stand up. If they touch the issue, it's like touching a third rail." Soros, who lives in New York, had been considering making the new offer of matching money for some weeks. He advanced the announcement to Thursday after the Clinton administration refused on Monday to lift a ban on federal financing of such programs, said Ty Trippet, a spokesman for the Lindesmith Center, a drug-policy institute in New York that Soros aids. The offer is open to needle-exchange programs across the United States that find new financing from other sources to qualify for matching gifts from Soros. At 10 to 20 cents per needle, the $1 million total promised could buy 5 million to 10 million new syringes for injecting drug users. President Clinton declined to act despite a finding by a government panel of scientists that handing out clean syringes did not increase drug use and could save lives that might otherwise be lost to AIDS and other diseases through the sharing of dirty or contaminated needles. Congress has opposed the financing of sterile needles for drug users on the ground that doing so would condone their illegal behavior. The decision not to finance needle exchanges was a victory for Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the director of national drug policy, who heatedly debated the issue with Sandra Thurman, the director of national AIDS policy. McCaffrey prevailed by persuading Clinton that financing needle-exchange programs would send the wrong message to children and that such money would be better spent expanding treatment for addicts. His office also pointed to studies of Canadian needle-exchange programs in Vancouver and Montreal suggesting that the rate of HIV infection among drug users rose after they entered the programs. Proponents of needle exchanges called the conclusions flawed. Dr. David Satcher, the surgeon general, has said that 40 percent of new AIDS infections can be attributed directly or indirectly to infection from contaminated needles. Soros, who has spent nearly $20 million trying to change the way Americans think about illegal drugs, rejoined the debate Thursday. "It has been scientifically proven, and the federal government agrees, that making sterile syringes readily available to addicts reduces the spread of HIV and does not encourage drug use," he said in a statement issued through the Lindesmith Center. "It is now up to individuals, philanthropic groups and state and local governments to fill the void left by the federal government," he said.