September 20, 1995 in Nation/World

Needle Swap Programs Win Support Study Finds Effort To Fight Aids Doesn’t Encourage Drug Use

Associated Press

Allowing drug addicts to trade dirty syringes for sterile ones can reduce the spread of AIDS without encouraging the use of illegal drugs, according to a National Research Council report released Tuesday.

The study said needle exchange programs provide such a powerful public health good that restrictions on federal funding should be removed, laws controlling availability of syringes should be withdrawn and more communities should be allowed to participate.

“For injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, the once-only use of sterile needles and syringes remains the safest, most effective approach for limiting HIV (AIDS virus) transmission,” the report concluded.

The value of needle exchange programs has been disputed in the past by some law enforcement officials, who contend it promotes illegal drugs and sends a contradictory message about drug use.

Congress in 1988 specifically prohibited federal funds for needle exchange programs, but allowed the policy to be reversed if the surgeon general finds such programs effective.

The NRC study recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services clear the way for federal funding of needle exchanges.

Dr. Philip R. Lee, HHS assistant secretary, said the study will be reviewed.

Lincoln E. Moses, chairman of the NRC committee and professor emeritus of health research and policy at Stanford University, said needle exchange programs have had a dramatic effect on the HIV rates in communities where the programs have been evaluated.

In New Haven, Conn., he said, there was a reduction by at least 33 percent in the rate of new HIV cases originating from dirty needles. And in a Tacoma program, researchers found among drug users an eightfold drop of hepatitis, a blood-borne disease that was measured as a surrogate for HIV infection.

The study said there was no credible evidence that needle exchanges cause increased drug addiction.

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