The Clinton Administration has missed an opportunity to be a full partner in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS by deciding not to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs. It defies logic to determine a program's efficacy and then not fund the program, especially in the middle of an epidemic.
The Administration's decision shows a lack of political will in the midst of a public health emergency. The science in support of needle exchange is clear, the need is urgent, yet the administration's response is equivocal.
Six government funded studies have documented the positive effects of needle exchange and rebutted the argument that the program sends a mixed message about drug abuse. There is a consensus statement from a distinguished National Institutes of Health panel affirming that needle exchange prevents HIV infections and does not promote drug abuse. According to the panel, ‘individuals in areas with needle exchange programs have increased likelihood of entering drug treatment.'
Aside from the human and emotional toll the HIV infection inflicts, the medical cost of caring for someone infected with the virus is $120,000. We can prevent infection and the spread of the disease with a 10-cent syringe. Putting this proven public health intervention to work is long overdue.
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