WASHINGTON-Programs designed to encourage drug addicts not to
share needles can help reduce the spread of HIV, a National Academy
of Sciences panel said in its report to Congress. The report may
pave the way for a change in government policy to allow the use
of federal funds to support such programs.
The panel, organized by the academy's National Research Council
and the Institute of Medicine, said that exchange programs or
programs that distribute bleach to addicts for use in sterilizing
needles can effectively decrease the risk of HIV without encouraging
Dr. Lincoln E. Moses, chairman of the panel and professor emeritus
at Stanford University, said that a New Haven, Conn, program saw
a one third decrease in the rate of HIV contamination in needles
turned in for exchange. A Tacoma, Wash, program showed an eightfold
decrease in hepatitis, which can be used as an indictor of HIV
among IV drug users.
Bonding Ritual or Necessity?
The report also put to rest the notion that addicts share needles
as a form of bonding ritual and would not stop the practice even
if new needles were available. Dr. Steven Koester, an anthropologist
at the University of Colorado, told the panel that addicts share
needles out of necessity to avoid being caught carrying illegal
To get off the street as quickly as possible after purchasing
drugs, addicts go to a "shooting gallery" where only
used needles are available. If new needles were accessible and
legal, addicts would use them, not only to avoid the risk of HIV
infection but also the discomfort and damage to veins caused by
blunted or clogged needles, Dr. Koester said.