DPF hosted a press conference with Joycelyn Elders October 20 to publicize the need for action on needle exchange programs. The event was held during the DPF conference, just before Dr. Elders delivered her keynote speech.
Dr. Elders focused her remarks at the press conference on the devastating impact of injection-related AIDS among African-American and Latino populations, as described in "Health Emergency," the new report by Dawn Day of the Dogwood Center (see pages 4, 24). The press conference marked the official release of that report, which was mailed by DPF nationwide to news organizations earlier that week.
Dr. Elders noted that African-Americans suffer disproportionately high arrest and incarceration rates in the drug war and pointed to the new AIDS statistics as further evidence of the heavy impact of current drug policies on the community. "It's getting where the only way we black women can find black men," Dr. Elders said, "is in prison or in the graveyard."
Dr. Elders also made her strongest statements to date in favor of expanding use of needle exchanges and funding them with public money. "It's time — long past time," Dr. Elders said, "for our congressmen, our president and the people inside the Beltway to heed the science on this issue.... We need to lift the ban on [federal funding of] needle exchange programs. The science is there to support it. We've had it in our hands since 1993."
Lifting the ban could have immediate impact, Dr. Elders explained. "TheAl DS money is already out there," she said, and local governments "could begin immediately to start using those funds to buy clean needles to distribute in their communities."
In the question-and-answer portion of the event, Dr. Elders was asked how opposition to needle exchanges within the African-American community might affect her proposals. "There's a lot of ignorance in our black community," Dr. Elders said. "Most of the time it's that they don't understand.... We've got to go out and educate them and make them realize that not having needle exchange, not knowing about AIDS, is killing off all of our bright young people. And they've got to get involved, and they need to find out what's going on, or they need to shut up."