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According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 2.4 million injection drug users in the United States. It is estimated that these drug users inject about 1,000 times per year. This results in billions of injections per year, necessitating a strong need for sterile needles. Dirty needles increase the risk of HIV/AIDS in the population. According to research, access to sterile needles reduces the need to share needles with others, which reduces the risk of infection.

History of Needle Exchange Programs

This is how needle exchange programs came about. They operate on a harm reduction model, meaning that some people can’t stop drug use altogether but there are ways to stop the physical harm caused by the drugs, such as by needles. Needle exchange programs first started in Europe in the 1980s and were established in various cities – such as San Francisco, Tacoma, Portland and New York City – later in the decade. By 2002, 186 needle exchange programs could be found in 36 states. More than 24 million needles have been exchanged since the inception of the program.

Effectiveness of the Programs

According to the Centers for Disease Control, needle exchange programs have resulted in a reduction of risky behavior by as much as 80 percent. HIV/AIDS cases have declined by as much as 30 percent. They are also cost-effective. It can cost up to $12,000 to prevent one HIV/AIDS case through the needle exchange program, but it can cost $190,000 to treat someone infected with the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, needle exchange programs operate on a limited basis. They are not open 24/7, nor are they available everywhere. Not all states have created programs in the area because of the controversy involved with the program. Many believe that the program increases and encourages drug use. However, the program operates on a one-for-one basis. The drug user exchanges a dirty needle for a clean one. In addition, many states have laws prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia, which includes needles.

Needle exchange programs may operate in storefronts, pharmacies, vans, sidewalks and health clinics. The Harm Reduction Coalition has information about finding needle exchanges in your area. You may be able to get information from your doctor or a local health clinic or pharmacy. AIDS prevention programs in your area may have information. Your county’s health department or your state’s Department of Public Health may also be able to advise you of any programs in your area. They typically operate in the larger, more populous states. For example, California alone has 40 programs within the state.

*Benefits of Needle Exchange Programs

Opponents of needle exchange programs believe that they just encourage drug use. However, according to AIDS Action, needle exchange programs provide many benefits, including:

  • Disposal of used needles
  • Referrals to treatment centers
  • Access to methadone clinics
  • Condoms
  • Peer education
  • Screening for AIDS and other diseases
  • Information about HIV prevention
  • Onsite counseling services

Addiction Treatment Options

Drug use is not encouraged. Although it is good to see drug users taking advantage of needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases, the best course of action is to seek treatment and enroll in a drug abuse treatment program. We can help you find one just right for your needs. Call us today to get started on the path to recovery and drug-free living.

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