Washington D.C. Is Proof That Needle Exchanges Save Lives

Washington, D.C. has a higher AIDS diagnosis rate than any U.S. state, with about 2.4 percent of residents living with HIV/AIDS. Just over 14 percent of those cases are linked to injection drug use.

But until 2007, there was a federal ban on using D.C.’s municipal funds for needle exchange programs, an outreach technique that reduces disease spread and can channel vital health and addiction services to drug users. When Congress lifted the ban, public health scientists were eager to see if needle exchanges would stem the tide of new HIV cases in the district.

Thanks to a new study that followed the first two years of such needle exchange programs in D.C., the verdict is in: By funding the exchanges, lawmakers helped avert at least 120 new HIV cases in the District in the first 24 months, saving an estimated $44 million in lifetime costs for HIV/AIDS care.

Currently, only 16 states and Washington, D.C. explicitly authorize needle exchange programs, according to April 2015 data from LawAtlas. But research consistantly shows that providing clean needles to drug users reduces infectious disesase and, despite claims to the contrary, doesn’t “encourage” drug addiction.

“A lot of policymakers are caught up in that belief system without looking at the evidence,” said lead researcher Monica Ruiz of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. But, she said, this latest study provides clear evidence that setting aside such biases in favor of evidence-based policies can save lives — and help reduce an unnecessary health care burden.

How needle exchanges work

Injection drug users have a higher risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C because the disease can be transferred from an infected person to a new person if they —> Read More