Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Contact:  25 Aug 1998


Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke makes a persuasive case when he says his
city's needle-exchange program, the nation's largest, pays for itself if it
stops only three drug addicts from getting AIDS. New Britain, take heed.

That city has 280 people with AIDS. On Sept. 2, the New Britain Common
Council will consider a plea by the health director to let him start a
needle-exchange program with state and private money.

It would be deadly for the city to continue resisting.

Just 25 miles to the south of New Britain, another drug- and
disease-plagued town, New Haven, was among the pioneers of the program in
which addicts who use intravenous drugs can turn in their used needles for
sterile ones. The exchange encourages them to stop sharing used needles
that spread the virus causing AIDS. The state says needle exchanges cut the
risk of HIV infections by a third.

New Britain's HIV infection rate is four to five times higher than the
state as a whole, according to The Associated Press. And it's liable to get
higher as the drug trade in the city escalates. Earlier this month, police
seized 199 "dime bags" of heroin, which sell for $10 each, and arrested two
people carrying them at the Allen Street shopping plaza.

For the small price of needles, a van and a few workers, the city could
stop infections that will eventually drain a fortune from the public health

There are a few understandable qualms about needle-exchange programs.
Willimantic closed its program when a child was pricked by a discarded
needle that may have been from the exchange. That fiasco could have been
avoided by withholding clean needles from addicts who didn't turn in their
used ones.

But the fear of encouraging drug use is not a valid excuse for denying a
needle-exchange program. A vast array of experts from the General
Accounting Office to the National Institutes for Health have confirmed that
needle exchanges do not encourage drug use. Even the surgeon general has
debunked that myth. In fact, needle-exchange programs pave the path to drug
treatment for many addicts.

New Britain police decided last year to go after auto thefts and
burglaries. They succeeded in lowering those crime rates by nearly 12
percent in the first three months of 1998.

Couldn't some of that energy be put to fighting AIDS?

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Checked-by: Pat Dolan