No Federal Funds For Needle Exchange Efforts
By Eileen O'Connor/CNN
WASHINGTON (April 20) -- The Clinton Administration will back scientific evidence that says needle exchange programs reduce the spread of AIDS in intravenous drug users, while not increasing the use of drugs.
The administration, however, will not authorize the use of federal funds for such needle exchange programs.
Sources say that after an "exhaustive review," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has accepted a government-sponsored study showing such programs do reduce AIDS.
The compromise decision was reached only after rancorous debate among administration officials. "The scientific part was easy," Shalala said. "The decision about not to allow federal AIDS prevention funds to fund these programs was more difficult."
Barry McCaffrey, the director of Drug Control Policy, firmly opposed funding needle exchange programs.
The drug czar even wrote Republican members of Congress to help him publically oppose such programs. "This would be bad drug policy, bad law enforcement policy and probably also be a bad signal to young people," McCaffrey said.
The Clinton Administration decided to back the science, to help some local communities in their own decisions on whether to fund needle exchange programs. But officials decided not to authorize the use of federal funding, given the lack of consensus in Congress, and even a possible backlash which could result in denying funding for other programs.
Supporters of needle exchange programs say this policy does not go far enough. David Harvey of the AIDS Policy Center said, "This is like refusing to throw a life jacket to a drowning person. We need federal resources to extinguish the epidemic of HIV infection among injection drug users."
Others say the programs send the wrong message. Former drug czar William Bennett said, "It's unseemly and terrible, unconscionable for the administration for the government of the U.S. to say we're gonna give out needles to people so they can use illegal drugs. That is not the way to fight the drug war or to reduce AIDS."
Sources say President Bill Clinton was angered by the open warfare among his advisors, knowing that opponents on both sides would have a field day whatever the decision.
The administration is now relying on local communities to fund needle exchange programs within a drug treatment setting. Some may call it a cop out while others call it pure political pragmatism.