On Friday March 10, DPF brought top researchers and advocates to Capitol Hill to make the case for needle exchange programs. The event was preceded by a week's worth of national publicity DPF generated by leaking suppressed government documents about needle exchanges to the media. Government officials, congressional staffers, activists and reporters packed the room in the Rayburn House Office Building to hear about the issue.
A key issue at the forum was the question of whether the federal government should fund existing needle exchange programs and provide start-up money to new programs.
Currently, federal funding is banned unless health agencies find that the programs curb HIV's spread and do not increase drug use. Evidence supporting both conclusions has built steadily, and in late 1993, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the feds should fund the programs. Unfortunately, that recommendation–along with other health agenices' comments on needle exchange research – was kept secret until DPF leaked it March 7.
The CDC was motivated to take its pro-needle exchange position by the most thorough research on the topic ever undertaken: A federally funded study by University of California researchers. Among other things, that study showed four different ways in which needle exchanges are likely to reduce HIV transmission. Also, the UC study found no evidence that the programs increase drug use in their communities or among their clients.
To explain his findings, DPF brought the lead researcher from the study, Dr. Peter Lurie of UC San Francisco, to Washington. Also on the forum program were Yale University professor Edward Kaplan, who designed an award-winning method for measuring needle exchange's impact on HIV transmission, and Ernie Drucker, a DPF board member with more than 20 years' experience in harm reduction programs. The program was rounded out by the Washington, D.C., premiere of "Fire in Our House," a new 10-minute video on needle exchanges produced by Vanessa Vadim and Rory Kennedy of MayDay Media.
Copies of a videotape of the forum, which includes "Fire in Our House," are available for $35 from DPF.The MayDay Media video is also available separately for $15, and includes a resource guide and other information. It is also available through DPF.