Scientists Determine That Members Of Congress And Drug Czar Have Misinterpreted Results Of Canadian Needle Exchange Studies

Press Release April 8, 1998
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711

NEW YORK – The authors of the two studies most cited by critics of needle exchange programs have concluded that U.S. officials have misinterpreted the results of their studies. In a powerful op-ed in today’s New York Times, Drs. Julie Bruneau and Martin T. Schechter debunk claims by some major U.S. officials, including Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, that needle exchange programs do not reduce the spread of HIV. “As one of the authors of the Canadian studies, I must point out that some U.S. officials have misinterpreted our research,” said Dr. Schechter. “Our research showed that needle exchange is a necessary but not sufficient component of HIV prevention efforts. Clean needles are only part of the solution. A comprehensive approach that includes needle exchange, health care, treatment for drug addiction, social support and counseling is also needed.”

Numerous studies have concluded that needle exchange programs dramatically reduce the spread of HIV and do not encourage drug use. Given the strength of the evidence supporting needle exchange programs, opponents have had very little information to use as evidence against needle exchanges. Opponents have frequently cited the Canadian studies as evidence that needle exchange programs do not stem HIV infections.

“Opponents of needle exchange programs are playing politics with people’s lives by intentionally misinterpreting scientific results,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Director of the Lindesmith Center. “Needle sharing contributes to over 50% of all pediatric AIDS cases. Many of these infections could have been avoided if the Federal government funded these crucial, life saving programs.”

Needle exchange programs are supported by the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association as well as other prestigious medical and public health organizations. In addition, the American Bar Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have urged the federal government to allow states and localities to use Federal HIV prevention funds to implement needle exchange programs. Currently, federal law bans the use of federal HIV prevention funding for needle exchange programs. Secretary Donna Shalala has the authority to allow funding, but has so far failed to act.

Polls have shown that Americans support lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs. A recent Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believe that cities and states — and not the federal government — should decide whether federal HIV prevention funds can be spent on needle exchange programs.

Based in New York, the Lindesmith Center is a drug policy research institute that concentrates on broadening the drug policy debate. The Lindesmith Center is a project of the Open Society Institute. Founded by philanthropist George Soros, the Open Society Institute promotes the development of open societies around the world through projects relating to education, media, legal reform and human rights. The founder and director of The Lindesmith Center is Ethan Nadelmann, J.D., Ph.D. , author of Cops Across Borders: The Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement (Penn State Press, 1993) as well as numerous articles on drug control policy in leading scholarly and popular journals.

For Further Comment:

Dr. Martin Schechter
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC (Pacific Standard Time)

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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