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In Support of Syringe Exchange Programs


A new short documentary about syringe exchange programs circulated the CommunicateHealth office this week — and it got a lot of us talking.

The Exchange was funded by the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) in an effort to galvanize support to end the federal funding ban on syringe exchange programs. These programs provide injection drug users with sterile syringes and a safe disposal option for their used syringes at no cost. In many cases, the programs also offer a variety of related prevention and care services — like counseling, referrals to substance abuse treatment, on-site HIV testing, and much more.

Many major public health and medical authorities back these programs: the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association are just a few organizations that have officially declared their support. There is a huge body of evidence [PDF] showing syringe exchange programs reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases. These programs also save money, reduce the risk of unsafe needle sticks to law enforcement, and get injection drug users help to fight their addictions. Yet a ban preventing federal funding for these programs remains.

Part of the problem is that these programs seem to remain controversial in public opinion — and we aren’t doing enough to change that. There’s no data that suggests syringe exchange programs turn non-users into drug addicts. What the data does tell us is that they save both lives and money.

So what can we do? We can talk about the syringe exchange programs, publicize them, and get the science out there. In the ongoing effort to prevent HIV transmission, implementing more syringe exchange programs would make a huge difference and allow us to see some progress.

Get talking, tweeting, and posting. Tell your friends. Share this video. Contact your local and state representatives. Support your local syringe exchange program [PDF].

1 Comment so far

  1. Megan said

    Cities and towns across America struggle to find solutions to cut back on blood-borne diseases in their communities as it relates to injection drug users. Injection drug users are at a much higher risk for blood borne diseases than other types of drugs users. Finding ways to implement programs such as needle and syringe exchanges or opioid treatment facilities can be tricky due to the barriers such as governmental policies or beliefs. While these are barriers they can be broken down with supplied education. It should be noted that a study released in 2011 showed that there were 6.6 million injection drug users in the United States. For every 100,000 injection drug users (IDU) 55 were diagnosed with HIV and 2,147 per 100,000 were already living with the infection (Lanky, Finlason, Johnson, Holtzman, Wejnert, & Mitsch et al. 2014). That is a huge number that must be slowed. The benefits of needle exchange programs proved that numbers can decrease with the proper implementations. In an article published by the CDC (2016) the author discussed:
    “a series of three-year longitudinal studies investigating the effects of New York’s legalization of needle-syringe exchange programs between 1990 and 2002 found decreases in:
    -HIV prevalence from 50 percent to 17 percent
    – Person-years at risk for HIV, from 3.55 to 0.77 per 100 person-years”
    Looking at the high volume of users that contract either HIV or Hep C something needs to be done as it doesn’t just affect the users. Needles being left on the streets are being touched by children who don’t know any better and police officers being pricked during searches. Implementing such program could be a win-win for all ivolved.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016) Improving access to prevent the spread of HIV and HCV. Retrieved from:

    Lansky A, Finlayson T, Johnson C, Holtzman D, Wejnert C, Mitsch A, et al. (2014) Estimating the number of persons who inject drugs in the United States by meta-analysis to calculate national rates of HIV and Hepatitis C virus Infections. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97596. Retrieved from


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