The traditional battles against AIDS and drug abuse came under scathing criticism this week when the National Commission on AIDS pointed out the obvious: Dealing with these twin scourges separately is myopic. The commission found that a full third of AIDS cases in this country stem from intravenous drug use -- either through sharing of infected needles or through sexual contact with an HIV-infected drug user.
The commission recommended a practical approach -- expanded drug treatment programs linked with needle-exchange programs so that everyone who wants help can get it.
Therein lies the controversy. Although research has shown that needle-exchange programs can help combat both addiction and AIDS, they remain paralyzed by the stigma of seeming an implicit endorsement of drug use. The problem is compounded by a state law that makes distribution of clean needles illegal.