Source: Associated Press
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Apr 1998
Author: Dale Hopper - Associated Press Writer


BALTIMORE (AP) -- David Purchase was angered by the Clinton
administration's refusal to allow federal money to buy clean needles for
drug addicts, even though officials admitted that such exchange programs
fight AIDS without encouraging drug use.

"No guts, no glory," said Purchase, chairman of a needle exchange advocacy
group, which is holding its national convention through today. Despite the
president's hesitation, Purchase has seen the number of programs balloon
since the start of the Tacoma, Wash.-based North American Syringe Exchange
Network. About half of the programs are illegal, he said. In response to
Clinton's statement, international financier George Soros on Thursday
offered $1 million in matching funds to support needle exchange programs
around the country.

The Soros pledge "was in the works, and we decided to announce it when the
federal government decided not to fund programs," said Ty Trippet of the
Lindesmith Center, a drug policy research organization that is part of the
Soros-sponsored Open Society Institute.

In 1991, there were fewer than 10 needle exchange programs in the country,
said Purchase. Now there are 134 programs in 34 states and U.S.
territories. They handed out 17.5 million syringes to 121,000 "injectors"
last year, he said.

NASEN serves as a clearinghouse for information and buys needles in bulk to
sell to needle exchange programs.

Baltimore's health department has run a needle exchange program for three
years and received permission this year from the state to continue

"I'm convinced if we can get the president over here, we can change his
opinion," Mayor Kurt Schmoke said.

Baltimore's program, providing needles to about 7,000 addicts at a cost of
about $300,000 per year, is the largest city-run needle exchange in the
country, Schmoke said. It pays for itself if just three people avoid the
costs of AIDS-related hospitalization, he said.

"You've got to demonstrate widespread grass-roots support," said city
health commissioner Peter Beilenson. "You've got to get beyond the advocacy
groups or it won't get widely used."

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.