[For more information, contact Dave Fratello or Rob Stewart, at (202) 537-5005.]
PANEL PUTS NEW PRESSURE ON CLINTON TO SUPPORT NEEDLE EXCHANGES
Scientists Say Federal Government Should Back Programs
WASHINGTON, September 19 -- Another blow was dealt today to the Clinton administration's policy of silence and inaction on needle exchange programs. A special panel of scientists, brought together by the National Research Council, found that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV, and urged state legislatures and the federal government to take action to expand the use of such programs.
Drug Policy Foundation 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."
"However," Trebach added, "we are realistic. We have already seen this administration ignore needle exchange science before. Almost two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the same basic recommendations as the National Research Council did today. Rather than listen, Bill Clinton hid the CDC findings from public view."
DPF Executive Director David C. Condliffe said, "How many more lives must needlessly be lost before Bill Clinton listens to the science on needle exchange programs? The administration's failure to act before now is intolerable and obscene. It is time to take a stand and fight AIDS where it is spreading the fastest: among injecting drug users."
Condliffe continued, "Today, a prestigious scientific advisory panel has urged the administration to act. But there is no guarantee that federal health agencies can do anything on needle exchange programs until the White House decides to take on the challenge. We urge the president to do so, in the knowledge that science and the interests of public health are firmly behind him."
On March 7, the Drug Policy Foundation leaked copies of internal documents from five federal health agencies reviewing the science on needle exchange programs. These documents revealed that the CDC, in December 1993, urged the lifting of a ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs and said states should repeal laws restricting access to sterile syringes.
Condliffe added, "For the last two years, the administration has had the authority to fund needle exchanges along with research across the country, under the auspices of `demonstration research.' But again, the administration's response has been silence and inaction. It's time for that to change."
Trebach added, "Public opinion polls show that the majority of Americans support needle exchanges, and in communities where programs operate, typically they gain more and more public support each year. President Clinton should tap into that experience, bring together the local leaders who have stood up for needle exchanges, and get the rest of the country to focus on preventing AIDS instead of posturing for the campaign season."
Dr. Peter Lurie, Univ. of California, San Francisco
-- lead researcher on 1993 CDC-funded report on needle exchanges: (415) 597-9138.
National Research Council, Cheryl Greenhouse: (202) 334-2138.
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