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November 22, 2009

The Needle Nexus

"Needle exchange is AIDS prevention that works. While no one wants to have to put on a condom, every drug user prefers injecting with a clean needle. In 2003, an academic review of 99 cities around the world found that cities with needle exchange saw their H.I.V. rates among injecting drug users drop 19 percent a year; cities without needle exchange had an 8 percent increase per year. Contrary to popular fears, needle exchange has not led to more drug use or higher crime rates. Studies have also found that drug addicts participating in needle exchanges are more likely to enter rehabilitation programs. Using needle exchange as part of a comprehensive attack on H.I.V. is endorsed by virtually every relevant United Nations and United States-government agency.

"All over the world, however, solid evidence in support of needle exchange is trumped by its risky politics. Harm reduction is thought by politicians to muddy the message that drug use is bad; to have authorities handing out needles puts an official stamp of approval on dangerous behavior."

Read more in New York Times, November 17, 2009.

Comment: A major Australian government study released last month found that “Only 0.1% of drug injectors are HIV positive, but 14% would be if there were not needle and syringe programs throughout thousands of places in Australia.” See (large download) -- the quote is from a media release by The Association for Prevention and Harm Reduction Programs Australia.

The study also found that syringe exchange had saved $4 for every $1 spent, prevented 32,000 HIV infections and 100,000 hepatitis C infections, and saved Australia $1.28 billion in health costs, over the past decade.

The New York Times article noted, "In the United States, needle-sharing directly accounts for more than 25 percent of AIDS cases." A recent government report estimates about 16% of U.S. injection drug users are infected with HIV. (These figures are consistent, because HIV is passed on to sexual partners who may not be IDUs, resulting in the higher figure.)

Compared to Australia, that's a 160-fold increase (a 16,000% increase) in U.S. infections among IDUs in the United States, due to government and public hostility against needle exchange.