Reduces the Spread of Infectious Diseases
“SSPs [syringe services programs] are widely considered to be an effective way of reducing HIV transmission among individuals who inject illicit drugs and there is ample evidence that SSPs also promote entry and retention into treatment.”
~ Dr. Regina Benjamin, Office of the U.S. Surgeon General
Because of legal restrictions and prescription requirements, PWID can find it extremely difficult to use a clean needle for every injection. This is why needle-sharing is so common. IV drug users who are afraid of being arrested while carrying drug paraphernalia are almost twice as likely to share needles.
This also explains why exchange programs that place limits on how many clean needles they distribute are less effective than those with no limits.
The CDC reports that when combined with other services, even “moderate” increases in infection treatment among PWID can lead to significant decreases in the incidence and prevalence of new infections.
A number of studies investigated how New York’s exchange programs affected the spread of blood-borne diseases between 1990 and 2002:
- HIV prevalence dropped from 50% to 17%.
- Person-years at risk for HIV declined sharply, from over 3 years, 6 months, to approximately 9 months per 100 person-years.
- Among HIV-negative PWID, the prevalence of HCV infections dropped from 80% to 59%.
Similarly, when the District of Columbia Department of Health initiated a needle exchange program, there was a 70% decrease in new HIV cases among PWID.
Increases Access to Drug Treatment and Health Services
“I understand that research has shown these programs when implemented in the context of a comprehensive program that offers other services such as referral to counseling, healthcare, drug treatment, HIV/AIDS prevention, counseling, and testing, are effective at connecting addicted users to drug treatment.“
~ Gil Kerlikowske, former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
It must be understood that needle exchange programs do not explicitly try to stop IV addicts from using drugs and they do not directly offer any form of treatment.
However, that does not mean that clients are not exposed to education, safety information, and the availability of local resources and treatment options. Pamphlets are available, and anyone who expresses a desire to get help are put in touch with detox and treatment programs.
New needle exchange clients are five times more likely to enter drug rehab programs than non-participants. Equally, as encouraging, research shows that participants are also more likely to reduce or even stop injecting drugs altogether than those who do not exchange needles.
In fact, exchange programs usually offer a lot more than just clean needles, including:
- Safety practices
- Information on avoiding overdose
- Narcan distribution and training
- Referrals to clinics that test for and treat HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and other conditions
- Provision of condoms
- Appropriate health, welfare, and hygiene services
Protects the Local Community
In 2012, Drug and Alcohol Dependence published a study that compared a city without needle exchanges – Miami – to San Francisco, a city with such programs.
Over 8 times as many used needles were found on Miami streets than there were in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, IV drug users in Miami admitted to improperly disposing of their needles far more often than their San Francisco counterparts. In 2000 alone, 3.5 million used syringes were collected and safely disposed of in San Francisco.
Similarly, after exchange programs were put into place in Portland, Oregon, the number of improperly discarded syringes dropped by nearly two-thirds.
Bob Scott, formerly a Captain in the Macon County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Office, said, “(Exchange programs) take dirty needles off the streets and increase the safety of our police officers.”
In a survey of San Diego police officers, nearly 30% reported suffering into the needle stick injury at some point in their careers. And among those, 27% experienced multiple stick injuries. When Connecticut implemented the exchange programs, stick injuries among police officers decreased by two-thirds.
Other first responders are also at risk. In 2011, Charles Aughenbaugh, the President of the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, said, “In the cities that have adopted needle exchange programs, there is a dramatic reduction in needle sticks to firefighters who crawl on their hands and knees through smoke-filled rooms to search for victims.”
Finally, contrary to critics’ worries, exchange programs are not associated with an increase in crime. In fact, in Baltimore, neighborhoods with needle exchange programs saw an 11% decrease in burglaries and break-ins. That reduction is even more interesting when you consider that at the same time, the city as a whole was experiencing an 8% increase in crime.