The writer from the National AIDS Fund gave short shrift to studies on needle-exchange programs in Montreal and Vancouver, Can., arguing that "the design of these studies and the behavioral characteristics of the study populations limit generalizing these findings to U.S. populations" ["Needle Exchanges Save Lives," letters, Aug. 5]. The writer wants us to imagine that Canadian drug users are markedly different from their American neighbors. Forty percent of Vancouver research subjects who knew they were HIV positive reported having lent contaminated needles to other drug users in the preceding six months. Regrettably, sharing needles is as much a part of the drug culture here as it is in Canada.

The needle-exchange and drug-legalization lobbies argue that needle handouts work, but flawed studies fail to account for other influences, such as outreach and educational efforts, that reduce drug use without providing an enabling device -- i.e., free syringes. Imagine the outrage of the anti-tobacco lobby if someone proposed to reduce the harm associated with cigarette use by providing young people with low-tar, low-nicotine cigarettes courtesy of the taxpayers. The mentality is the same as with free needles, assuming wrongly that we can do nothing to prevent unhealthy behavior. In fact, a Chicago study proved that education and outreach alone reduced HIV by 71 percent.

Every major city with needle exchange has an epidemic of HIV and AlDS. In Vancouver, HIV infection exploded from between one and 2 percent in 1988, when the needle exchange first opened, to 23 percent today. In Baltimore, which embraces needle distribution for IV drug users, injecting-drug use is associated with more AIDS cases in Maryland than nationally. AlDS is terrible, but heroin and cocaine addiction are dangerous and can be deadly as well. Nine out of 10 Baltimore drug addicts who share needles are infected with Hepatitis C, which has no cure. Common sense and science demonstrate that free needles promote greater illicit drug use, undercut state statutes against possession of drug paraphernalia and spreads Hepatitis C and HIV.

MARK SOUDER

U.S. Representative (R-Ind.)

Washington