The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates that there are roughly 2.4 million intravenous drug users in the US, each injecting on average 1,000 times per year.

Dirty needles pose a huge risk to drug users and the greater population. When drug users share needles, they put themselves at risk for HIV and other infections of the blood like hepatitis C. One must wonder is there a way to minimize the spread of disease while combating the use of intravenous drugs? Research shows that access to sterile needles reduces needle sharing, thus reducing the spread of infection.

What is a needle exchange program?

Needle exchange programs are based on the harm reduction model, which assumes that people aren’t going to stop using drugs, however, there are ways to minimize the harm caused by drugs, i.e., needles. The first programs began in Europe during the 1980s before being organized in several cities including New York, San Francisco, and Portland.

Since the beginning of the program, more than 24 million needles have been interchanged. Today, there are roughly 200 needle exchange programs in 33 states, and Washington, D.C., according to the North American Syringe Exchange Network.

How do needle exchange programs work?

Needle exchange programs allow a person to exchange needles on a one-for-one basis: one dirty needle in exchange for one clean needle. These programs still work on a limited basis; they are not available in all states due to their controversy, and they are not open 24/7. Some people believe that needle exchange programs promote drug use. Furthermore, drug paraphernalia (including needles) is illegal in many states.  

Needle exchange programs can be found in many places. Some operate in health clinics, others in vans, storefronts, or sidewalks. AIDS prevention programs a local pharmacist or a doctor will provide information on local needle exchange programs.

Needle exchange programs effectiveness

There are many ways to determine a needle exchange program’s effectiveness, and so far, all signs indicate the program is successful. The CDC reports that needle exchange programs have reduced risky behavior by as much as 80 percent.

HIV/AIDS cases have declined by up to 30 percent. They are also extremely cost-effective — while preventing one HIV/AIDS case through needle exchange programs can cost $12,000, treating someone infected with the disease can cost nearly $200,000.

What are the benefits of needle exchange programs?

Although opponents of harm reduction therapy including needle exchange programs think the programs encourage illegal drug use, data has shown the opposite to be true.

Besides the broad benefits of these programs outlined above, needle exchange programs also facilitate proper disposal of needles, provide onsite counseling services, as well as provide referrals to treatment centers and more.

Needle exchange programs often serve as gateways to drug treatment. When drug users feel they can take safety precautions without judgment, the door becomes more open for them to seek out treatment in due time. Furthermore, harm reduction methods such as needle exchange have no measurable impact on new drug users or increased crime.

Of course, while harm reduction methods such as needle exchange programs are helpful in many ways, illegal drug use is not encouraged. It is advised that drug users find a treatment program that meets their needs and helps them on the path free of addiction.
If you or a loved one is battling with substance abuse or addiction, contact a specialist at the United Recovery Project today. We can help you navigate your best options for treatment.