Date: Monday, April 20, 1998
Contact:  HHS Press Office  (202) 690-6343


HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala announced today that based on the findings of extensive scientific research, she has determined that needle exchange programs can be an effective part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the incidence of HIV transmission and do not encourage the use of illegal drugs.

Under the terms of Public Law 105-78, the Secretary of HHS is authorized to determine that such programs reduce the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and do not encourage the use of illegal drugs. The act's restriction on federal funding, however, has not been lifted.

"This nation is fighting two deadly epidemics -- AIDS and drug abuse. They are robbing us of far too many of our citizens and weakening our future," said Secretary Shalala. "A meticulous scientific review has now proven that needle exchange programs can reduce the transmission of HIV and save lives without losing ground in the battle against illegal drugs. It offers communities that decide to pursue needle exchange programs yet another weapon in their fight against AIDS."

While the use of federal funds continues to be restricted, and criteria for their use have not been established, Secretary Shalala emphasized that needle exchange programs that have been successful have had the strong support of their communities, including appropriate state and local public health officials. The science reveals that successful needle exchange programs refer participants to drug counseling and treatment as well as necessary medical services, and make needles available on a replacement basis only.

The Administration has decided that the best course at this time is to have local communities which choose to implement their own programs use their own dollars to fund needle exchange programs, and to communicate what has been learned from the science so that communities can construct the most successful programs possible to reduce the transmission of HIV, while not encouraging illegal drug use.

Since the AIDS epidemic began in 1981, injection drug use has played an increasing role in the spread of HIV and AIDS, accounting for more than 60 percent of AIDS cases in certain areas in 1995. To date, nearly 40 percent of the 652,000 cases of AIDS reported in the U.S. have been linked to injection drug use. More than 70 percent of HIV infections among women of childbearing age are related either directly or indirectly to injection drug use. And more than 75 pecnet of babies diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were infected as a direct or indirect result of injection drug use by a parent.

Communities' use of needle exchange programs has increased throughout the epidemic. According to data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communities in 28 states and one U.S. territory currently operate needle exchange programs, supported by state, local, or private funds. Many of these programs provide a direct linkage to drug treatment and counseling as well as needed medical services.

Since 1989, the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs has been restricted by the Congress. Funding has, however, been authorized by the Congress to conduct research into the efficacy of such programs as a public health intervention to reduce transmission of HIV and to examine the impact of such programs on drug use. The federal government has supported numerous studies of the effectiveness of needle exchange programs in reducing the transmission of HIV among injection drug users, their spouses or sexual partners, and their children. Many of these studies also examined whether or not needle exchange programs encourage the use of illegal drugs.

In February 1997, Secretary Shalala reported to Congress that a review of scientific studies indicated that needle exchange programs "can be an effective component of a comprehensive strategy to prevent HIV and other blood borne infectious diseases in communities that choose to include them." She also directed the Department's scientific agencies to continue to review research findings regarding the effect of needle exchange programs on illegal drug use. The scientific evidence indicates that needle exchange programs do not encourage illegal drug use and can, in fact, be part of a comprehensive public health strategy to reduce drug use through effective referrals to drug treatment and counseling.

"An exhaustive review of the science in this area indicates that needle exchange programs can be an effective component of the global effort to end the epidemic of HIV disease," said Harold Varmus, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health. NIH has funded much of the research into the effectiveness of needle exchange programs and their impact on drug use. "Recent findings have strengthened the scientific evidence that needle exchange programs do not encourage the use of illegal drugs," Dr. Varmus said. Specifically, he cited: