Needle-sharing by opiate addicts is fueling an alarming rise in new HIV infections among injection drug users, and the United States doesn’t have enough syringe programs in place to reduce that risk, according to a report released Tuesday.
Although needle exchange programs have been politically controversial for decades, studies have demonstrated their public health benefits in dramatically reducing the rate of HIV transmission and risk of hepatitis infections among injection drug users without increasing the rate of illegal drug use.
The new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that use of these programs has increased substantially during the past decade, but most people who inject drugs still don’t always use sterile needles. Sharing needles and syringes is a direct route of transmission for HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses.
As a result, decades of progress in reducing HIV spread by dirty needles is being threatened. People who would not have been considered at risks for these infections are now vulnerable, especially white people living in predominantly rural areas of the country, including Appalachia, rural parts of New England, and the Ozarks.