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Administration’s support for needles to fight AIDS flawed, ERLC staffer says


WASHINGTON (BP)–The Clinton administration’s endorsement of needle-exchange programs to combat the spread of the virus that causes AIDS is an inhumane approach, a Southern Baptist ethics specialist said.
Donna Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced April 20 her finding the provision of free needles for intravenous drug users does not encourage the use of illegal drugs. Shalala had announced in 1997 needle exchanges can help in preventing the transmission of HIV. The latest announcement paved the way for federal funding of needle-exchange programs, but the Clinton administration chose not to lift the ban on such funding in the face of opposition from its own drug policy office and Republicans in Congress.
While the decision not to fund needle exchanges was appropriate, the “whole concept of distributing clean needles in order to protect the public health is ludicrous,” said Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It seems preferable to move people who show up for needles into a drug rehabilitation program where they can find relief from their addiction.
“All that needle-exchange programs are accomplishing is helping to keep the addicts disease-free while they slowly kill themselves with drugs. The results will be the same — death. This is not a humane approach to the problem. It is a convenient approach.”
The church has a “permanent solution” for drug users, said Duke, whose specialties for the ERLC include the drug abuse issue.
“The addicts’ best hope is Jesus Christ,” he said. “The church must bring this hope to him and then provide him with the love and support that will enable him to leave his old lifestyle for good.
“Until the church assumes its responsibility to bring light, salt and the compassion of Jesus into every part of society, government will continue to try to find substitutes which will never address the real problem — mankind’s lonely separation from God.”
The administration’s refusal to fund needle-exchange programs infuriated anti-AIDS activists, who argue the federal government should help fight the spread of HIV by providing clean syringes in exchange for used ones, which may contain infected blood.
“It’s like saying the world is not flat but not funding Columbus’ voyage,” said AIDS Action Executive Director Daniel Zingale, according to The Washington Times.
While HHS reported research shows free-needle programs do not encourage illegal drug use and can help reduce drug use through referrals to drug treatment and counseling, the president’s Office of National Drug Control Policy told The Times studies do not support the HHS declaration. The drug control office provided a study showing drug use and HIV infections increased in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has the world’s largest needle-exchange program, The Times reported.
Sen. John Ashcroft, R. Mo., denounced the HHS action, calling it “an intolerable message that it’s time to accept drug use as a way of life,” according to The Washington Post.
Sen. Paul Coverdell, R.-Ga., introduced a bill April 21 that would block HHS from lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges.
Though HHS announced federal funds would not be used for needle exchanges, its report provided encouragement for local communities to fund such programs. According to data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communities in 28 states and one U.S. territory operate needle-exchange programs.