Needle Exchange Programs Reduce Disease Transmission

needle-exchangeThere are a number of lawmakers who have mixed feeling about needle exchange programs, places where IV drug users can exchange used syringes for clean ones. Many taxpayers are not comfortable with fronting the bill for addicts to continue their drug use, despite the fact that needle exchange programs have proven to reduce the spread of infectious disease. On top of that, needle exchanges give counselors a perfect opportunity to discuss recovery with active users, potentially channeling them into treatment.

Exchanges Reduce Transmission

New research suggests that after Washington D.C. lifted the ban on funding needle exchange programs it prevented 120 new cases of HIV in just two years, USA Today reports. The ban was lifted in 2007, giving the District’s health department the power to provide free:

  • Clean Needles
  • Condoms
  • HIV Tests
  • Referrals to Addiction Treatment

“Policy change makes a difference,” says lead author Monica Ruiz of George Washington University.

The Research

If the DC ban had not happened, Ruiz calculated 296 HIV infections would have occurred, according to the article. In the two years after lifting the ban, there were 176 new cases of HIV, which means that lifting the ban prevented 120 cases. Ruiz and her colleagues calculated the average lifetime cost of treating the 120 people had they been infected, about $44 million.

“Our study adds to the evidence that needle exchange programs not only work but are cost-effective investments in the battle against HIV,” says Ruiz, an assistant research professor of community health at George Washington’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The findings were published in AIDS and Behavior.

DC is Not Alone

A number of states have seen an alarming rise in the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, forcing government officials to change their stance on the value of having clean needle programs. The Governor of Indiana declared a state of emergency regarding HIV transmission linked to the prescription drug Opana ®. Governor Mike Pence allowed for needle exchanges in the most troubled areas of the state. Indiana’s state health commissioner, Jerome Adams, said that needle exchanges “have been shown scientifically to slow the spread of infectious disease across time and across the country.”

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