AIDS: A Seething Dispute
for health officials to make any effort
than to look back years later and say,
"We wish we had done something."
Des Jarlais, who studied the Amsterdam program before making a proposal
for New York, said he too believes cities
should distribute needles, even if there
is no proof it will halt the spread of
"There would be some problems, some
difficulties," he said "But we have reason to believe it's worthwhile to try."
But others argue that distributing
needles would do more harm than good.
They say it would appear to both
addicts and the public as a government
sanction of illegal drug use and many
legislators have said it is unfair to use
tax money for such a program.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against the distribution of free
needles comes from the police departments ofthe cities where illegal drug use
has led to significant crime and widespread social problems.
In New York City, the police department has come come out strongly
against the proposed pilot program,
believing it would undercut the arrests
of suspected drug addicts and pushers
on paraphernalia charges.
Drugs are bought and used, but needles remain as evidence.
"It would create additional problems
for drug enforcement, possibly promote
drug use," spokesman Capt. Michael
Julian said. "We do make more drug
arrests for paraphernalia than for
"They have their reasons for support-
"Our ability to predict
what drug users will
do is never very good,
but there is a feeling
that if clean needles
were available they
would use them"
ing it," he said of the health officials
who are pushing the state health commissioner to approve the pilot program.
"We have our reasons for being against
Still others question whether addicts
would use sterile needles even if they
Surveys of several hundred drug
users conducted by Des Jarlais's office
in 1984 showed that an estimated 99
percent of the city's estimated 200,000
IV drug addicts are aware of the risk of
AIDS transmission but only half said
they tried to sterilize their needles.
Mauge, who heads New York's ex-
addict outreach program, said addicts
repeatedly tell him they are sterilizing
their needles, but said these same
addicts are often seen later sharing needles rented in shooting galleries.
"I don't know, if needles were available, if they would change their habits
because it is habit," Mouge said. "Even
if they had a fresh needle they might
still shoot up with three or four people
because that's how it's done."
However, in the 36 states that allow
needles to be purchased openly, addicts
usually don't share their equipment, he
"You look at New Orleans, where the
addicts have the same profile, the same
types, and HIV infection is 1 percent
compared to here where in some areas
it's probably 50 percent," he said. "In
New Orleans they go to Woolworths,
buy a needle and shoot at home."
In New Jersey, where needle purchases are illegal, 62 percent of the
state's 1,901 AIDS cases are related to
IV drug use.
Mouge said states with high numbers
of intravenous drug users usually have
passed laws making possession of needles illegal in an attempt to make drug
use less accessible and to to give police a
reason to arrest suspected drug users.
"So here they go to galleries," said
Mouge, who generally supports a needle
"I do believe we might reduce a portion of AIDS," he said.
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."
Des Jarlais said needles can be sterilized by boiling them in water for more
than 15 minutes or soaking them in
bleach for a similar time period. He said
he believes users want to sterilize their
needles, but often times don't have the
facilities or presence of mind to do so.
"If given a choice, they'll choose a
clean needle," he said. "I can't believe
our drug users are not as shrewd as
APRIL 17, 1987 / MONTROSE VOICE 15
those in Holland."
Des Jarlais also said European health
officials have told him needle distribution programs allow them to keep tabs
on addicts and give them an opportunity to try to rehabilitate them.
"It's an excellent way to get access
and build up trust," he said.
While the debate is continuing, it
appears most American health and
legislative officials have decided
against needle distribution programs
and are not likely to change their minds
unless new evidence emerges.
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