Can a needle exchange program make a difference in HIV rates? A recent study suggests that this may be the case. The study credits a needle exchange program in Washington, DC with preventing hundreds of cases of HIV infection. The program initially launched in 2007 and it was aimed at intravenous drug users. The study estimates that 120 new HIV infection cases were prevented and $44 million was saved in just two years on HIV treatment costs because of the lower number of infections. The study findings were published by the researchers in the online AIDS and Behavior journal in the September 3, 2015 edition.
According to researcher Monica Ruiz, who is associated with George Washington University in Washington, D.C., “Our study adds to the evidence that needle-exchange programs not only work, but are cost-effective investments in the battle against HIV. We saw a 70 percent drop in newly diagnosed HIV cases in just two years. At the same time, this program saved the District millions of dollars that would have been spent for treatment had those 120 persons been infected.” There are both those for a needle exchange program and those against it. Advocates point out that drug users have access to medical care, and that HIV infection affects the entire community and not just the individual. Some believe that these programs just encourage drug abuse, but the truth is that the individuals will use the drug whether they have access to clean needles or not. Protecting the public from infectious diseases and lowering the spread of HIV is a good goal in itself.