More Needle-Exchange Programs Offer Drug Users Access to Health Care, Education, Study Shows
The number of needle-exchange programs in the United States nearly doubled between 1994 and 1998, according to a new study published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Reuters reports that researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York found that 131 needle-exchange programs existed across the country in 1998, compared to 68 between 1994 and 1995. Researchers showed that 19.4 million syringes were exchanged in 1998 by the 110 organizations surveyed, compared to eight million between 1994 and 1995. The 110 programs operated in 81 cities in 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with California and New York having the most number of programs with 21 and 14, respectively (Reuters, 5/17). According to the researchers, whose work was sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, many needle-exchange programs "serve as community-based HIV prevention and health promotion centers" for intravenous drug users, including those at "high risk for bloodborne infections" (Singh et al., MMWR, 5/18). The study also found that needle-exchange programs offer additional health services: 95% of survey respondents said that their programs made referrals to drug treatment centers, 64% provided HIV testing and counseling and 24% offered hepatitis testing.
A Growing Acceptance
Jane Silver, vice president for public policy at amfAR, said, "The largest stumbling block [to needle-exchange programs] is that the federal government doesn't recognize this scientific evidence and support the programs. There has been, however, a significant amount of state, county and local public funding for them." Mytri Singh, lead researcher at Beth Israel, added, "There is a history of controversy but [needle-exchange programs] are becoming much more accepted" (Reuters, 5/17). For more information on needle-exchange programs and HIV prevention among intravenous drug users, click here to access the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention HIV IDU Prevention Web site.