Leaked McCaffrey Letter Indicates Opposition to Lifting Syringe Exchange Funding Ban 3/27/98

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On Tuesday, (3/17), a meeting took place between National AIDS Policy Director Sandra Thurman and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey over the issue of syringe exchange, and the ban on the use of federal anti-AIDS funds for their implementation. The meeting was held in the wake of the "no-confidence" resolution released earlier that day by the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV/AIDS (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/3-20.html#aidscouncil).

The result of that meeting was a letter, sent by McCaffrey to Thurman, indicating the Drug Czar's strong opposition to the lifting of the ban. While insiders had been aware for some time of McCaffrey's opposition, he had never directly made his feelings public. The letter, however, was leaked both to members of Congress and to the New York Times, which ran a story on it on Sunday (3/22). McCaffrey's now-public opposition to lifting the ban is seen by proponents as a serious blow to the chances that Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala will make the determination, a prerequisite for lifting the ban, that syringe exchange slows the spread of AIDS without a concomitant rise in drug use. This despite overwhelming scientific support for the programs.

Robert Fogel, a member of the President's Advisory Commission told The Week Online: "The joint statement issued by AIDS Policy Director Sandra Thurman and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey indicates that they will leave it in the hands of HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to decide whether or not to make the required determination. This is just as it has been. Secretary Shalala has assured the commission that her office is almost finished with their review, and that her determination would be based on the science, and not on the politics surrounding the issue. At this point, we have faith that those assurances were made honestly. We await the Secretary's determination."

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