Needle Exchanges Have Funding On The Way

needle exchangeIt is fair to say that people are going to continue to use both prescription opioids and heroin despite the recent interagency actions of the Federal government which are doing what they can to assist states that are struggling to address the crisis. Of late, there have been three areas that have been the focus topics, some of which are controversial.

In a number of states, opioid addicts and their loved ones can acquire the life saving drug naloxone without a prescription. The drug, if administered in a timely manner, can reverse the deadly symptoms of an opioid overdose. There have also been reports of opioid addicts having to wait lengthy periods for a bed at substance use disorder treatment facilities, which is why the White House is calling upon Congress for $1.1 billion to expand access to treatment throughout the country.

Arguably, needle exchange programs remain to be controversial, despite the fact that they not only reduce the transmission of disease, they also provide a forum for addiction counselors to reach addicts that they would otherwise not see. Historically, many lawmakers have been opposed to such programs, arguing that they promote continued drug use; however, every lawmaker is aware that the opioid crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions and they are coming to see that they may have to think outside the box.

A Federal Ban On Needle Exchanges

Every day, needle exchanges operate throughout the country, but they do so without any financial support from the federal government. Needle exchange programs do a lot of good and with the spike of opioid addiction there is a much higher demand for clean needles – a reality which is spreading the programs thin.

In an attempt to assist such programs, last month Congress passed a measure that would lift a ban on funding needle exchanges, WBUR reports. While the measure’s passing could easily be considered to be a paradigm shift, the funding cannot be used for purchasing syringes – which can account for a third of the facilities overhead.

The funding can only be used for:

  • Staff
  • Vehicles
  • Counseling
  • Outreach

Baby Steps

It could easily be argued that the measure is lacking, but anything helps and we can only hope that this measure will be amended after Congress sees what the good needle exchange programs do for communities that have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Without expanded access to clean needles, the problem is only exacerbated.

“It is really an important and historic moment for us at syringe exchanges,” said Mark Casanova, Executive Director of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, which runs a syringe exchange. “But it doesn’t go far enough.”

Needle Exchange Programs Reduce Disease Transmission

needle-exchangeThere are a number of lawmakers who have mixed feeling about needle exchange programs, places where IV drug users can exchange used syringes for clean ones. Many taxpayers are not comfortable with fronting the bill for addicts to continue their drug use, despite the fact that needle exchange programs have proven to reduce the spread of infectious disease. On top of that, needle exchanges give counselors a perfect opportunity to discuss recovery with active users, potentially channeling them into treatment.

Exchanges Reduce Transmission

New research suggests that after Washington D.C. lifted the ban on funding needle exchange programs it prevented 120 new cases of HIV in just two years, USA Today reports. The ban was lifted in 2007, giving the District’s health department the power to provide free:

  • Clean Needles
  • Condoms
  • HIV Tests
  • Referrals to Addiction Treatment

“Policy change makes a difference,” says lead author Monica Ruiz of George Washington University.

The Research

If the DC ban had not happened, Ruiz calculated 296 HIV infections would have occurred, according to the article. In the two years after lifting the ban, there were 176 new cases of HIV, which means that lifting the ban prevented 120 cases. Ruiz and her colleagues calculated the average lifetime cost of treating the 120 people had they been infected, about $44 million.

“Our study adds to the evidence that needle exchange programs not only work but are cost-effective investments in the battle against HIV,” says Ruiz, an assistant research professor of community health at George Washington’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The findings were published in AIDS and Behavior.

DC is Not Alone

A number of states have seen an alarming rise in the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, forcing government officials to change their stance on the value of having clean needle programs. The Governor of Indiana declared a state of emergency regarding HIV transmission linked to the prescription drug Opana ®. Governor Mike Pence allowed for needle exchanges in the most troubled areas of the state. Indiana’s state health commissioner, Jerome Adams, said that needle exchanges “have been shown scientifically to slow the spread of infectious disease across time and across the country.”

___________________________________________________________________

If you are or your loved one is struggling with opioids, please contact Next Step Intervention. We can assist you in finding the right treatment which will help you start your journey of recovery.

Help Can't Wait

Get Help Now