Last week, President Clinton had the chance to take a stand on a controversial issue. Unfortunately he passed on that opportunity. Though Clinton admits research proves needle exchange programs curb the spread of HIV without increasing the use of illegal drugs, he will not allow federal funds to be used to support the contentious program. For a president so committed to ensuring a place in history for himself, his decision is a cowardly one.
Needle exchange programs are found in more than 100 cities across the country, including Baltimore and the District. The programs attempt to slow down the spread of HIV by giving clean syringes to intravenous drug users. One-third of the 600,000 AIDS cases reported in the United States are the result of shared drug needles. Having a needle exchange program would help lower this incredibly high number.
Critics of the program argue that for the federal government to give free needles to drug addicts would be to condone illegal drug use. Yet these critics fail to consider the evidence that shows needle exchanges do no such thing. Though critics are morally offended by the government’s participation in the handing out of needles, they are silent on the morality of allowing HIV to continue to spread. Where is the balance between the morality of handing out needles and the morality of allowing people to die?
For his part, the president was willing to acknowledge the evidence, but unwilling to take the political heat and support needle exchanges with federal money. It is a shame that science and research were pushed to the sidelines because of politics. What explanation will the president and critics of needle exchanges give as the spread of HIV continues unabated while they argue over the moral high ground?