Pubdate: Sat, 08 Apr 2000
Date: 04/08/2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Author: Robert Heimer

In his April 3 front-page article, "A Helpful, or Harmful, Hand? Pr.
George's Debates Exchange of Needles," Paul Schwartzman reports that
"proponents [of syringe exchange] rest their case solely on public
health concerns: Distributing clean syringes . . . is a proven way to
curtail the spread of AIDS."

Many proponents of syringe exchange actually make the case that while
syringe exchanges have been proven to prevent the spread of AIDS, they
have also been shown to do more.

In New Haven, we found that the exchange, which served 250 clients a
month, was a conduit for enrolling people in substance-abuse programs.
At the height of its effectiveness, the program was referring almost
30 people a month and successfully entering more than half in
treatment programs. Most of the requests for treatment came from
people who did not otherwise come to the exchange.

In Baltimore, as well, slightly more than half of those referred to a
drug treatment program by their syringe exchange entered treatment.

What the syringe exchange programs in New Haven and Baltimore had in
common at the time the data were collected was adequate funding to
commit resources to making referrals and assisting entry. Those in
Prince George's County should be sure that their proposed syringe
exchange program includes funds that focus on assisting drug users in
getting into effective substance abuse treatment. Then the program
will do more than curtail the spread of AIDS; it will reduce drug use.

Robert Heimer,
New Haven, Conn.