Pubdate: Sun, 1 Nov 1998
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 1998 The Dallas Morning News
Author: Nita Thurman / The Dallas Morning News


Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders says the $156 million AIDS package
announced by President Clinton lacks a vital component for minorities: a
clean-needle exchange program.

More than 60 percent of AIDS cases among blacks and more than half of all
AIDS cases among Hispanics are related to injections by contaminated
needles, she said Saturday.

Dr. Elders spoke at a news conference held in conjunction with the four-day
1998 United States Conference on AIDS at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown

The conference is being attended by several hundred community workers,
doctors, people living with HIV and others working to stop the spread of

She quoted from a study, "Health Emergency 1999," on the spread of
drug-related AIDS among minorities and also cited other earlier public
health studies. The Health Emergency study was prepared by an independent
research organization in Princeton, N.J.

"We are trying to prevent HIV deaths," she said. "We are trying to provide
good public health. But we have ignored the hard science and let it become a
political football.

"It costs a lot less to provide clean needles and save lives than to treat
someone with AIDS."

Dr. Elders citied five-year costs of $4,000 to $12,000 for each HIV
infection that could have been prevented by a needle-exchange program.
Medicine for one person with AIDS over five years costs about $60,000, she

In the United States, federal funds cannot be used to finance programs to
distribute clean hypodermic needles. Opponents of such programs say
providing clean needles to drug users would condone or promote drug use.

The Clinton administration has declined to lift the ban, and House
Republicans early this year passed a bill trying to make the nine-year ban

Mr. Clinton announced a $156 million program Wednesday to help fund AIDS
programs for blacks and Hispanics at the community level. None of the funds
can be used for needle-exchange programs.

Public health experts, including Surgeon General David Satcher, have
denounced the ban, citing findings by government scientists certifying that
providing clean needles does not encourage drug abuse and can reduce the
spread of AIDS.

Minorities and the poor are the worst hit by the federal ban, Dr. Elders
said, because private health dollars do not trickle down to low-income

About 113 needle-exchange programs funded by private donors existed in 1997,
the study found, and most developed countries, including England,
Switzerland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, have clean-needle

Politicians who support the ban are reacting to conservative voters who want
the ban on moral grounds, Dr. Elders said.

"And they've silenced the rest of us," she said. "They seem to see these
deaths as casualties of war, just consequences of the war on drugs. But
these are American citizens that are dying when medical intervention could
save their lives."

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Checked-by: Don Beck