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Needle Exchange Advocates Rally at HHS


September-October 1997

On September 17, between 500 and 1000 needle exchange advocates rallied at the headquarteres of the U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) Services, to protest HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and President Clinton's inaction on lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs. The rally was organized by the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! (Kim Painter, "Needle exchanges in the eye of AIDS debate," USA Today, September 17, 1997, p. D1; John Fountain, "Protest at Agency Targets Rule on Needle Exchange," Washington Post, September 18, 1997, p. A17).

Kathryn Fuoco, a mother with AIDS from Mothers Voices; Denise Paone, MD, Assistant Director of Research at Beth Israel Medical Center's Chemical Dependency Research Institute; Howard Josepher, Executive Director of Exponents, Inc./ARRIVE; and Keith Cylar, co-Executive Director of Housing Works spoke at the rally. During the rally, twelve protesters were arrested for attempting to bring a symbolic 12-foot-tall replica of a human backbone into the HHS Building. The protesters carried signs that read, "Moral Backbone for Clinton," and "Moral Backbone for Shalala."

Scientific reviews sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health and the General Accounting Office have concluded that needle exchange programs decrease the incidence of HIV/AIDS transmission and do not increase drug use. These two conditions, mandated by Congress, must be found before the HHS Secretary can lift the ban on federal funding on such programs. Needle exchanges have also been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

Despite the evidence supporting the value and lack of harmfulness of needle exchanges, opponents contend that such programs condone illegal drug use.

HHS spokesman, Victor Zonana, said that Shalala believes needle exchange programs can be effective in combating the spread of HIV. "And while we continue to look at the issue, we have not yet concluded that needle exchange programs do not discourage drug abuse," Zonana said. [This formulation is a distortion of the legal requirement that needle exchange not encourage drug use. It distorts the purpose of needle exchange from stopping the spread of AIDS to stopping the use of drugs -- which most government programs fail to do -- EES.]

Chris Lanier, National Coalition to Save Lives Now! - 22 W. 27th St., New York, NY 10001, Tel: (212) 213-6376, Fax: (212) 213-6582, E-mail:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - 200 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20201, Tel: (202) 690-7000, Web: