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 drug use.
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 drug paraphernalia.
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.