Source: Associated Press
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Apr 1998
Author: Laura Meckler - Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's new surgeon general said Friday he is
disappointed by the Clinton administration's decision to bar federal
funding for AIDS-fighting programs that give clean needles to drug users.
The administration said this week that science shows that such programs
prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug use.

However, the White House decided against using federal money to support
them, agreeing with those who say that buying needles for addicts sends the
wrong message. Asked about the decision, Dr. David Satcher said that as a
scientist he is "disappointed" any time resources are not available to fund
effective programs. "We said very clearly that they do not increase drug
use," he said in an interview Friday. "It would be great if we could do it
without the political overtones."

Also Friday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for the
resignation of President Clinton's drug policy chief, Barry McCaffrey, who
had urged Clinton to withhold federal money for the programs. "This is a
life-and-death issue," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. "You can save
lives with needle exchange distribution as we try to work at getting rid of
drugs in our society."

In response, McCaffrey said black leaders should think twice before
endorsing needle exchange programs in neighborhoods where drugs are
rampant. Such program provide clean needles to drug users in exchange for
used, possibly contaminated, ones.

"If you're a parent already fighting to bring your children up right and
protect them from drugs, you have to ask: `Do I want one of these programs
on my corner or near my child's school?'" he said in a statement.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry added that the president supports
McCaffrey and is confident in the needle exchange decision.

"The president is very supportive of the work that he's done," McCurry said.

At an announcement of the administration's policy on Monday, Satcher had
said that more money for needle exchange programs would save lives. But
with the administration trying to show a united front, Satcher had
sidestepped a question about whether he was personally disappointed.

Satcher, who took office two months ago, has supported needle exchange
programs since he was director of the federal Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, and it was one of several positions criticized by Senate
conservatives opposed to his nomination.

Clinton's science advisers wanted to lift the ban on federal money for
needle exchange programs. But at the last minute, the White House sided
with opponents, including conservatives in Congress and McCaffrey. Studies
suggest that needle exchange programs can be effective in getting drug
users into treatment, but McCaffrey and others say it is wrong to use tax
money to buy needles that will be used to inject illegal drugs. Satcher
acknowledged those arguments.

"It's not easy to answer that with science when someone asks you what kind
of message you're sending," he said.

Still, Satcher said it is "critical" for local communities to come together
and create their own needle exchange programs if they feel comfortable with

"They should find the funds," he said. Studies suggest that half of all
people who contract HIV are infected by needles or by sex with injecting
drug users, or are children of infected addicts. The government reported
this week that HIV infections have remained relatively steady over time,
despite a historic drop in AIDS cases and deaths because of new drugs.

The CDC report also found minorities making up a larger of the infected
population, something the Congressional Black Caucus seized on Friday as it
denounced the administration's decision.

Satcher argued that the administration decision to endorse the programs --
even without federal money -- is significant, despite protests about the
continued funding ban.

"I understand how disappointed people are," he said. "But I would not
discount the significance of the decision made."

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press