Chicago Tribune Profiles Chicago Recovery Alliance Needle-Exchange Program
The Chicago Tribune on Sunday profiled the Chicago Recovery Alliance, one of the largest needle-exchange programs in the country, which has distributed 15.5 million syringes since its founding in 1991. In addition to clean needles, the center offers HIV and addiction treatment and counseling referrals, free condoms and HIV testing. Unlike most other needle-exchange programs, CRA does not require a strict one-for-one exchange but operates under a "take whatever you need to inject safely" philosophy, according to the Tribune. According to the CDC, injection drug use accounts directly or indirectly for nearly half of all new HIV infections in the United States each year, and according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, nearly all infants born with HIV in Illinois are infected by parents who used unsterile needles. Despite such statistics, it is illegal in the state to possess a syringe without a prescription. CRA must bypass the law through a research exemption, working closely with AIDS and addiction researchers and keeping detailed information about the people who use the program. In exchange for 2.4 million dirty syringes last year, CRA distributed 2.72 million clean ones to more than 6,000 people. CRA Director Dan Bigg estimates that there are 60,000 injection drug users in the city and if each user regularly got clean needles, CRA would distribute at least 60 million needles a year (Terry, Chicago Tribune, 6/8). The Illinois House last month approved 70-48 a bill (HB 880) that would allow individuals to purchase hypodermic needles from pharmacies without a prescription. The state Senate in March voted 30-24 to approve the bill, which would allow anyone age 18 or older to purchase up to 20 needles at a time from a pharmacy. The bill is now being considered by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.