Important Exchange Re: Clinton & Obama on Needle Exchange

Ben Smith's blog on The Politico web site today discussed an important exchange of comments between Hillary Clinton and Charles King, the executive director of Housing Works, at a private appearance earlier this month, as well as comments by Barack Obama at a different meeting in the same series. King had asked Clinton if she would lift the ban on use of federal AIDS funds to support needle exchange programs, an issue that previously came to a boil in 1998 during her husband's second term. (Some activists believe that Bill Clinton would have lifted the ban if Donna Shalala rather than Barry McCaffrey had boarded a certain Air Force One flight.) According to Smith:
Clinton responded to King's question, after some prodding, by saying, "I want to look at the evidence on it" to see whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug abuse. Shalala, King responded, had "certified" the safety and effectiveness of the programs. "And then she refused to order it, as you remember," Clinton said. King replied that that had been her husband's decision. "Well, because we knew we couldn't maintain it politically," Clinton said, and went on to discuss the trade-offs in that dispute with Congress. "I wish life and politics were easier," she said. King then referred back to Clinton's opening remarks. "You made a great comment earlier about how our next president needs to have some spine," he said. "We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances," Clinton responded.

Obama, by contrast, had responded that he supports lifting the ban. Click here to read Smith's full post, which includes the video footage. A little background: Housing Works has for years been a stalwart in the harm reduction movement. (Harm reduction is the idea that people who use drugs should be helped in reducing the harm they do, to themselves or others, whether they are about to stop using drugs or not.) The organization is very well known in New York City, which successfully beat back a late 1990s attempt by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani to bankrupt them. In 2000, activists from Housing Works stormed the Ashcroft confirmation hearings to denounce his record on needle exchange. King's co-founder and co-executive director of Housing Works for years, the late Keith Cylar, was a member of DRCNet's board of directors (and a friend).

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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Let's Be Honest

Ok... enough on the so-called "needle exchange". Let's be
honest and call it what it really is -- "needle giveaway".

Not in any legislation - federal, state or local - does it require
an addict to turn in an old needle to receive an unused one.
Simply, all one has to do is ask for a needle. You are not
even required to prove you use drugs.

This is one of the biggest hoaxes played on the American
public.

borden's picture

policies vary

Policies vary, but at many of the exchanges they do in fact require needles to be returned. However, such requirements make the exchange less effective and drive up the rate of HIV transmission, so if a city doesn't require strict one-for-one exchange, the program will probably be more flexible. Many cities do require it, unfortunately. At some programs, they will give out up to a certain number, but then require more than that to be returned, as a way of encouraging secondary exchange.

I've visited several needle exchange sites, and clients of the sites did in fact bring used needles back. Have you ever visited a needle exchange program?

The evidence supporting needle exchange programs is beyond overwhelming.

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Matt_Potter's picture

Whats in a name?

So what? Call it what you want, injection drug use still contributes to a significant portion of AIDS cases in the US and access to clean needles would help reduce those rates of infection.

I fail to see how it is a hoax, much less "one of the biggest hoaxes played on the American public." I think most people see this program for what it is, an attempt to protect injection drug users and their partners from a horrifying disease.

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