The New York Needle Trial: The Politics of Public Health in the Age of AIDS
American Journal of Public Health. 1991 Nov; 81(11): 1506-1517.
During the past 5 years, the exchange of sterile needles and syringes for dirty injecting equipment has gained increasing acceptance outside the United States as a potential means of reducing the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among intravenous drug users. This article describes the controversy over attempts to establish a needle and syringe exchange scheme in New York City between 1985 and 1991. The response to a health crisis is used as an indicator of patterns of social and institutional practice. Advocates of needle exchanges had reached a stalemate with the promoters of law enforcement, and the strategic reformulation of the policy problem in terms of the research process seemed to offer a solution. The article discusses the practical limitations on designing and carrying out a controversial health promotion policy; the use (under constraint) of a restrictive research process to constitute -- rather than simply to guide or monitor -- public policy; and the potential ethical hazards of health professionals' seeking a polemical recourse to the clinical trial. The efforts to establish a needle exchange in New York thus illustrate more general problems for AIDS prevention.
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