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Drug Office Opposes Needle Exchange Programs With AM-Needle Programs-List

July 10, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Giving drug addicts clean needles does little to stem the spread of AIDS and helps perpetuate the drug problem, says the head of the government’s anti- drug programs.

″Our gains against drug use have been hard-won, and this is no time to jeopardize them by instituting needle exchange programs,″ said Bob Martinez, head of the Office of Drug Control Policy.

Advocates of needle exchange disputed Martinez’ findings, saying the programs save the government millions of dollars a day in the cost of caring for people who otherwise might have been infected by the AIDS virus. The virus often is spread among drug users sharing needles.

″We postpone a public medical debt of $6.5 million or more every day we operate,″ said Dave Purchase, director of the needle exchange program in Tacoma, Wash.

President Bush, meanwhile, signed legislation Friday that continues a ban on using federal money to provide free needles for drug addicts.

″Distributing free needles to drug users only encourages more drug use,″ the president said in a statement issued at his Keenebunkport, Maine, vacation home.

Five states and the District of Columbia have programs that allow addicts to exchange dirty needles for clean ones. Legislation is pending in four other states. In seven states, AIDS activist groups fund or operate exchange programs.

In a policy statement released this week, Martinez said he studied existing exchange programs and found ″no conclusive evidence that exchange programs reduce the spread of AIDS.″ He said more energy should be put into alternatives, such as treatment and outreach programs.

Martinez did not rule out future federal funding for needle exchange, ″but we’re strongly urging that it’s not a good thing,″ said Alicia Gatewood, spokeswoman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

″That’s a great shame,″ said the Rev. Margaret Reinfeld, director of education for the New York-based American Foundation for AIDS Research, the largest funder of needle exchange programs.

The foundation spends about $1.3 million on its needle exchange program in New York. Ms. Reinfeld estimated that there are about 500,000 intravenous drug users in the city.

″We cannot write off a class of people because we don’t like their behavior,″ she said. ″Mr. Martinez is making decisions based solely on fears. The facts simply do not support his case.″

Ms. Reinfeld said her group is evaluating exchange programs to determine their effectiveness.

Martinez cited a 1991 study in New Haven, Conn., which found decreases both in needle sharing among intravenous drug users and in transmission of the AIDS virus after the city instituted a needle exchange program.

That study was flawed, Martinez said, because it did not differentiate between drug users who exchanged a needle only once and those who exchanged needles more frequently. He also pointed out that the same study found 61 percent of addicts who contacted the program indicated that they never shared needles.

Elaine O’Keefe, director of the New Haven program, was not available for comment Friday.

But Purchase said Martinez misconstrued the research. ″He should rely more on science, medical fact and truth than he does on a false belief system that’s politically motivated,″ he said.

The Tacoma program has registered an 80 percent effectiveness in stopping the transmission of the AIDS virus and other blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis, Purchase said.

The rate of AIDS infection among Tacoma’s intravenous drug users has remained at 3 percent, Purchase added. ″If you look at cities where there’s no prevention effort ... in some cities it’s quadrupled in a year’s time.″

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