Free distribution of clean needles to drug addicts is limiting the spread of AIDS in big Canadian cities without raising illegal drug use, a new report indicates.
The study was conducted by the Addiction Research Foundation. Its view contrasts with United States policy, where needle distribution has been opposed or abandoned by officials who fear increased drug use and where activists who give out clean needles have been prosecuted.
"There is no indication that it has
affected drug use," said Dr. Randall Coates of the University of Toronto, who contributed to the report.
Toronto, with Canada's highest AIDS caseload, reported a 17 percent drop in the number of people testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, compared with a year earlier.
Only 4.6 percent of Toronto drug users tested positive for the virus, compared with 60 percent in New York and 15 to 20 percent in other major United States cities, according to the study.
Safer sex practices and Toronto's distribution of needles, begun in 1989, were the chief reasons for the fall in new HIV cases after five years of steady growth, Toronto health officials said.
Vancouver, which has an extensive needle-exchange program, has seen new AIDS cases rise by about 1.5 percent annually in recent years. City health officials say free needles may have kept the rate from soaring.