Last issue, The Activist Guide reported that HIV transmission due to sharing of injection equipment had reached record proportions: approximately 44% of all new AIDS cases reported in 1994, according to Dawn Day, Executive Director of the Dogwood Center (The Casualties Mount, June 8). As the casualties of needle prohibition mount, so does the evidence favoring needle exchange as an AIDS prevention measure and bridge to drug treatment. Last month, the National Research Council released a major report, finding that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases without increasing community levels of drug use, and recommending that state legislatures and the federal government take the steps needed to facilitate implementation of more needle exchange programs nationwide. Needle exchange programs distribute sterile syringes to injecting drug users, collecting used syringes from them in return.
The NRC report comes six months after an internal review of the matter by several federal agencies, which had been suppressed by the Clinton administration, was leaked to and released by the Drug Policy Foundation. The review urged the lifting of a ban on use of federal AIDS funds for needle exchange and repeal of state laws restricting access to sterile syringes. To this date, the review still can only be obtained from DPF.
DPF President Arnold S. Trebach said, "Clearly, some of the president's advisers want to avoid a political fight over needle exchange programs. They should look at this as an issue which, handled properly, could be a winner. In starkest terms, it is a question of life versus death. I suspect the American public can be convinced to choose the former."
Outside the Beltway, the NRC report already has had some effect. In New Jersey, Governor Whitman's Advisory Council on AIDS has undertaken a needle exchange study, and State Senator Wynona M. Lipman (D-Newark) has submitted two bills to the State Legislature. One bill calls for public health workers to provide free, clean needles as addicts return used needles, with the workers taking the opportunity to educate addicts about drug treatment. The other would repeal a state law that prohibits purchase of syringes from pharmacies without a prescription. "We need this because so many people are dying in my city," said Sen. Lipman. "The women get HIV from men, or from using drugs. And that puts the babies at risk."
The NRC report is entitled Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach, is 300+ pages long, and costs $37.95 + $4.00 postage ($0.50 additional shipping for extra copies). It can be obtained from the National Academy Press, (202) 334-3313. A copy of the 5-page press release summarizing the report can be obtained from the NRC press office, (202) 334-2138.
The Clinton Administration's Internal Reviews Of Research On Needle Exchange Programs can be ordered for $5 from the Drug Policy Foundation, 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20008-2302, (202) 537-5005 (voice) 537-3007 (fax), [email protected]. (Send an additional $25 if you want to join DPF.) The document in its entirety will soon be available on the web. (Check back here for the URL.)
Copies of The Public Health Impact of Needle Exchange Programs in the United States and Abroad, prepared by researchers at U.C. San Francisco and Berkeley and published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1993, can be obtained from the CDC's National AIDS Clearinghouse at (800) 458-5231, and will also be available from this web page in the near future.
From The Activist Guide, Issue #7, October '95, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.
The next article is: A Gentle Voice of Dissent.