Source: New York Times (NY)
Pubdate: April 24, 1998
Author: Christopher Wren


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

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.