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Oppose Needle Exchange Says Family Research Council; Supporters Respond at Dueling Press Conferences


September-October 1997

Opponents and supporters of needle exchange programs held back-to-back press conferences on August 20 to urge the Clinton Administration to take a position on the federal funding of needle exchange programs. NewsBriefs staff attended both press conferences.

At the first press conference, sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC), FRC president Gary Bauer, former White House aide to Ronald Reagan, said, "Congress and the Clinton Administration would make a radical mistake to flirt with the idea of needle exchange programs as sound and effective policy." Needle exchange opponents claim that these programs encourage addicts to keep using drugs and send a message that drug use is acceptable. Director of Psychiatry and Addiction Services at the Harlem Hospital Medical Center, James Curtis, MD, said, "as soon as one of these addicts uses his clean needle, that needle becomes a dangerous weapon. They cannot be expected to handle these needles responsibly." The Family Research Council produced results of a poll it commissioned, that 62% of Americans oppose needle exchange programs.

Immediately following the FRC press conference, the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! (NCSLN) hosted a press conference that included AIDS service organizations, churches and community organizations, and the American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA Executive Director Mohammed N. Akhter said, "Here is a lifesaver -- this is what will save lives," referring to needle exchange programs. Chris Lanier, NCSLN coordinator, said, "Tragically, it is politically expedient to falsely construe needle exchange as an endorsement of illegal drug use. In the real world, users engaged in needle exchange programs are more likely to enter treatment, and such programs have provided important access to services for those battling addiction." He cited a nationwide poll that shows broad support for needle exchange programs.

Former drug user and client of Washington's Whitman-Walker Clinic, Winnie Fairchild, testified that four out of the five users she shot drugs with are now HIV positive. She said, "A person, if they want to shoot drugs, they are going to shoot drugs anyway." Advocating needle exchange programs, Fairchild compared the cost of a clean needle, 7 cents, to $1,040.13, the cost of a one-month supply of her HIV medications.

Articles referenced for the report included: Kasper Zeuthen, "Opponents of Needle Exchange Say Most Favor Ban," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), August 21, 1997, p. A9; Gary Fields, "Needle exchanges still stir debate," USA Today, August 21, 1997, p. 3A; Reuter, "Needle Exchange Programs Debated in DC," Boston Globe, August 21, 1997, p. A21; Kasper Zeuthen, "Words are exchanged over needle program," Houston Chronicle, August 21, 1997, p. 7A.