Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Pubdate: Sat, 25 Apr 1998
Author:  Laura Meckler - The Associated Press


The surgeon general says he wishes the decision had been made without the
political overtones.

Washington-The nations new surgeon general said Friday the he is
disappointed as a scientist by the Clinton administration's decision to bar
federal funding for AIDS-fighting programs that give  clean needles to drug

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

"We said very clearly that they do not increase drug use," he said in
interview Friday."It would be great if we could do it without the political

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 Pep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles.
"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 programs 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 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 McCaffrey and conservatives in Congress.

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

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 percentage of the
infected population.


Strong preventive measures have helped Orange County keep the rate of AIDS
in intravenous drug users down during the epidemic, but county figures show
that rate is rising.

So a needle-exchange program is definitely needed, said Patricia Munro,
executive director of the AIDS Services Foundation.

The percentage of AIDS cases associated with injection drug use more than
doubled from 1990 to 1997, from 6 percent, to 14 percent of all count

"We've been very fortunate that we've been able to keep the rate of
infection down din that population," said Munro, who used to work with the
county Health Care Agency. National figures show that about half of all
people who catch HIV are infected by dirty needles, sex with injecting drug
users or are children of infected addict.

The Register