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.