Gay Leader Urges Caution on AIDS Drug Usage

Times Staff Writer

Saying that AIDS patients could end up as guinea pigs for experimental drugs, the leader of a national gay and lesbian group has warned homosexuals about the dangers of pressuring federal officials to release AIDS treatments that have not been fully tested.

Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told a conference in Universal City that clinical tests of potential AIDS treatments by the Food and Drug Administration are "slow moving and methodical" but they also help keep bad drugs from being distributed to the public.

"This cumbersome procedure has been quite frustrating in our community as we eagerly await the development and availability of potential treatments for AIDS," Levi said during a discussion session at the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, which ends today at the Sheraton-Universal.

'Unknown Consequences'

But by pushing for the early release of drugs, gays would be "legitimizing the use of lots of gay people to test drugs with unknown consequences," he said. The early release of drugs by the FDA, he added, could actually shorten the lives of some acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients.

The federal government earlier this month approved the experimental drug AZT for marketing in the United States, making it the first drug licensed in this country for the treatment of AIDS. Dr. Robert E. Windom, assistant secretary for health at the Health and Human Services Department, said the drug will be sold under the trade name Retrovir.

Other speakers at the conference, which attracted about 1,100 people from the United States and several foreign countries, called on public officials to support anti-discrimination laws for AIDS victims. The laws, they said, would encourage people in high-risk groups, such as homosexuals and drug users, to come forward and participate in AIDS prevention campaigns.

Public health officials "cannot persuade people to participate in prevention campaigns, especially to come in and be tested, if by doing so they run the risk of losing their homes, their jobs and their health insurance," said Nan D. Hunter, director of the lesbian and gay rights project for the American Civil Liberties Union.

'Lack of Protection'

"It is the absence of civil liberties protection that is a barrier to an effective public health campaign against AIDS. That lack of protection will stop people going in to be tested or from seeking advice about safe sex."

Dr. Neil Schram, chairman of the Los Angeles City-County AIDS Task Force, told the group that prevention efforts have in large part failed because homosexuals have been concentrating on defending the civil rights of AIDS victims rather than promoting prevention.

"The gay community has not done a good job of preventing the spread of the virus," Schram said. "We have made significant strides in protecting civil rights but have failed terribly in fighting the AIDS virus."

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