Caught between the expectations of a progressive constituency and fear of a reactionary opposition, the Clinton administration has chosen to avoid the grim but pressing issue of injection-related AIDS transmission.
In September 1993, researchers at the University of California published a comprehensive survey of the literature on needle exchange; the study had been commissioned by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found "no evidence that needle exchange programs increase the amount of drug use by ... clients or change overall community levels of non-injection or injection drug use" and that "needle exchange programs can prevent significant numbers of infections among clients of the programs, their drug and sex partners, and their offspring."
All but six states in the US have paraphernalia laws criminalizing the possession or distribution of syringes except for medical purposes, and nine states plus Washington, DC prohibit the purchase of needles without a prescription. The National Commission on AIDS has concluded that "legal sanctions on injection equipment do not reduce illicit drug use, but they do increase the sharing of injection equipment and hence the spread of AIDS."
While the laws criminalizing needles are at the state level, federal policy does have an impact on the progress of needle exchange implementation. Currently, the federal government provides AIDS funding through the Ryan White Act to state governments; however, states are forbidden to use this funding for needle exchange programs. However, the findings in the UC report -- that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of AIDS without increasing drug use -- allow the administration to lift the federal ban and permit state governments to use federal AIDS funding for needle exchange, if they choose.
Reviews by the CDC and other federal health agencies found the UC study to be sound; CDC wrote:
Far from acting on the CDC's sensible recommendations, the Clinton administration chose to hide the UC study from public view. Even a congressional committee was able to obtain a copy only after agreeing not to release it, and a Freedom of Information Act request by the San Francisco Chronicle was denied in late 1994. The report's contents remained a matter of speculation until this March, when a copy was leaked to the Drug Policy Foundation. National news stories featured the Foundation's release, including the Associated Press, National Public Radio and the CBS Morning News.
You can help save lives by writing to those in power; please send letters to Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Philip Lee, as well as your Representative and two Senators, asking them to support needle exchange programs:Dr. Philip Lee
You can reach your Representative and Senators (or find out who they are) through the Congressional Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.
Some points for your letters (excerpted from the DPF alert):
You can receive a copy of the CDC's 48-page document, plus press clips, for $5 including copying and postage. Send payment and request to:Drug Policy Foundation
Help work for state reform by providing copies to your state legislators!
From The Activist Guide, Issue #6, June '95, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.
The next article is: The Prohibitionists' Cabal.