Source: Standard-Times (MA)
Pubdate: Thu, 23 Apr 1998
Author:  Standard-Times - OPINION


The "war on drugs" would be over tomorrow if it were subjected to the
same sort of scrutiny that needle exchange has endured. Most of those
who demand that needle exchange prove its worth before the federal
government spends a nickel on it have no problem pouring billions of
dollars into an anti-drug campaign that was shown long ago to be as
ineffectual as the prohibition of alcohol.

No matter, for today the war on drugs forces have prevailed --
prevailed not because of the evidence available, but because of
political and ideological pressure on a "didn't inhale" president
averse to any criticism on the drug front.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala this week endorsed
needle exchanges and encouraged more communities to create them. The
evidence is clear and abundant, she announced at long last, that
needle exchange programs, in which clean needles are distributed in
exchange for used ones, slow the spread of the HIV virus that causes
AIDS without encouraging increased drug use.

But because of opposition from Barry McCaffrey, the administration's
drug policy chief, the Clinton administration also declared that it
wouldn't provide a penny for needle exchanges.

So while the central argument against needle exchange has been
dismantled, satisfying a congressional requirement before funding can
be allowed, neither the Clinton administration nor needle exchange
advocates on the local level in New Bedford have yet overcome the
visceral political aversion toward doing anything whatsoever for drug
addicts. That is so even when drug addicts' AIDS rates are decimating
the population and costing all of us a fortune in medical expenses and
human tragedy.

AIDS advocates and health officials across America find this galling,
especially when needle exchange opponents routinely disregard promises
to improve treatment for drug addicts as an alternative to needle exchange.

It remains true that many people still prefer to see AIDS and drug
abuse as crime issues rather than health issues -- even though health
concerns are the reason for the drug laws in the first place. And it
remains true that most people are willing to pay -- and to let others
pay -- an extraordinary price for this intransigence.