U.S. and U.N. drug policy directors butt heads over needle exchanges
March 09 2005 1:00 AM ET
At a conference in Vienna, Austria, Monday, drug policy directors from the White House and the United Nations sharply disagreed over using needle-exchange programs to reduce the risk of HIV infections among injection-drug users, with the U.S. official reiterating the Bush administration's opposition to the programs. John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said drug use itself is a risk factor for HIV infection and that efforts to curb injection-drug use worldwide will reduce new infections. "The single greatest way of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS through drug users is taking those addicted and get them to recover," Walters said. The Bush administration opposes the implementation of needle-exchange programs at home and abroad, claiming there is no science to prove they are effective and stating that they encourage drug use.
But Walters's U.N. counterpart, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the agency's Office on Drugs and Crime, said needle-exchange programs are "appropriate as long as they are part of a comprehensive strategy to battle the overall drug problem." "We must not deny these addicts any genuine opportunities to remain HIV-negative," Costa said in a speech to an open session at the 48th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. "We reject the false dichotomy that either drug control prevails with no consideration for HIV, or that HIV prevention prevails with no consideration for drug abuse."