14 MONTROSE VOICE / APRIL 17, 1987
By Gayle Young
NEW YORK (UPI)—As daylight fades
in the very worst neighborhoods ofthe
city, small bands of former drug addicts'
descend for a nightly street fight
against the spread of AIDS.
Readily admitted into the same notorious shooting galleries they once frequented, the ex-addicts teach attentive
users how to sterilize needles with boiling water and bleach.
In San Francisco, a health department worker dispenses condoms and
gallon jugs of Clorox to addicts from a
sack he carries across his back like
Santa Claus. And, in New Jersey,
health department agents have been
passing out informational AIDS pamphlets with coupons that allow drug
users free treatment in the state's drug
But unlike their European counterparts, cities in the United States have
stopped short of passing out the one
thing some believe may halt the spread
of the deadly disease among drug
addicts disposable intravenous needles.
"Basically, the only thing we have to
give them is information," said Conrad
Mouge, who directs New York City's 40
former addicts involved in its AIDS edu
Proposals to distribute free sterile needles in San Francisco, New York, New
Jersey and Washington, D.C.—which
have the highest numbers of addicts
with AIDS in the nation—have met
with a storm of opposition from indignant legislators, concerned police and
wary drug counselors.
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Addicts, Needles and
"The proposal has been brought up
and was shot down pretty quickly,"
Paul Barnes, spokesperson for the San
Francisco city health department, said
in a recent telephone interview. "We're
still following the cities in Europe to see
how they are doing. But for us, it's 'no
Next to homosexual males, intraven-
ilized needles available argue it may
save lives because sketchy studies in
New York have indicated that while
most addicts say they sterilize their needles, only between 3 percent and 20 percent actually do so.
"Our ability to predict what drug
users will do is never very good, but
there is a feeling that if clean needles
In cities where needles are illegal, addicts buy
them from corrupt pharmacies and hospital
storerooms, Des Jarlais said. "They are passed
around simply because there aren't enough
available for everyone/'
ous drug users are the most likely group
in America to become infected with, and
die from, acquired immune deficiency
syndrome, health officials say.
The Centers for Disease Control in
Atlanta report intravenous drug users
account for 17 percent of the 33,158
recorded AIDS cases in the United
States to date and another 8 percent of
people with the disease are both IV drug
users and homosexual. The percentages
have remained steady since IV users
were first recognized as a risk group in
the early 1980's.
Health officials say the HIV virus
that causes the disease can be found on
traces of blood in unsterilized needles
passed from user to user, often in
"shooting galleries" where addicts
gather to buy cocaine and heroin and
shoot up from needles rented for 50
cents per use.
Proponents of proposals to make ster-
were available they would use them,"
Don Des Jarlais, coordinator for AIDS
programs in the New York State Division of Substance Abuse Services, said
in an interview.
Des Jarlais helped draft a controversial proposal now under consideration
that would establish a needle exchange
program in New York City on a trial
basis. The pilot program, criticized by
the city's police department, would
allow drug addicts to exchange dirty
needles for sterilized needles and is
loosely based on European models.
In Amsterdam, the first city to start a
needle distribution program, drug users
can obtain free sterilized needles from
any one of 16 locations, including two
roving buses, simply by turning in their
old, used needles. Last year the city
.exchanged 400,000 new syringes for its
estimated 8,000 junkies, health officials
there say, and the program has spread
to most Dutch cities.
Some 34,000 free needles have been
distributed to an estimated 4,000 drug
addicts in Copenhagen by Danish
health authorities in a still-
experimental program. But Danish
drug users can buy sterile needles as
well. A vending machine in the heart of
the city dispenses an estimated 60 needles a day for the equivalent of $1.40.
Sweden does not officially sanction
the distribution of needles, but health
officials there say they are allowing doctors at the Lund hospital to give addicts
needles on a trial basis.
While the programs are accepted in
Europe, they have their critics there as
well. Helle Olsen, ofthe Swedish Social
Welfare Board, said the Lund program
has been criticized by people who say
addicts will share needles anyway and
that making them available might
tempt younger people to give intravenous use a try.
Health officials in the United States,
and in the European cities themselves,
say it is too early to tell if the programs
are reducing the number of AIDS cases.
And, since it is difficult to pinpoint
exactly when a person with AIDS
picked up the virus, they may never
know for sure.
"I can't say it will stop the spread of
AIDS; you can't stop the use of dirty
needles 100 percent," said Ernst Bun-
ing, a psychologist for Amsterdam's
municipal health services department
who helped develop the city's groundbreaking program.
But, he said he believed it was better
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