‘Narrow-Mindedness’ Concerning Needle-Exchange Programs Has Left U.S. Behind in Fight Against HIV, Opinion Piece Says
"Narrow-mindedness" concerning needle-exchange programs in the United States has left the country behind in the fight against HIV/AIDS, despite the "clear evidence" showing that exchange programs curb the spread of HIV without encouraging new injection drug use, columnist Brent Staples writes in a New York Times opinion piece. Needle-exchange programs in New York -- which were passed into state law in 1992 -- have become some of the "largest and most successful in the country," helping to reduce HIV prevalence among injection drug users from about 50% to about 15%, according to Staples. Such "impressive statistics" from the United States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, recently have led California to adopt laws making it easier for injection drug users to purchase clean needles without a prescription, and New Jersey also is proposing similar legislation, Staples says. However, many states do not have needle-exchange programs, and the programs that do exist are "barred" by Congress from receiving federal funds, Staples continues. In addition, some needle-exchange programs are "hampered" by state laws criminalizing needle possession, and HIV/AIDS advocates often have to "contend with suspicious neighborhoods, sluggish bureaucracies and hostile police officers," Staples writes. Moreover, a "fear of being arrested" is "helping to drive" the HIV/AIDS epidemic among minority injection drug users, who are more likely than whites to be "stopped and frisked" and therefore continue to borrow dirty needles, Staples says. The "debate [over needle-exchange programs] in America has been driven not by science or public health concerns but by an ideology that sees syringe-exchange programs as inherently 'evil' ... leaving the country 20 years behind where it could be in the battle against AIDS," Staples concludes (Staples, New York Times, 10/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.