Needle Exchange Programs And The Fight Against Hiv/Aids

1517 words - 7 pages

This paper will be concerned with the issue of having needle-exchange programs (NEPs) in the United States, for the purpose of encouraging injection drug users (IDUs) to engage in safer practices. Specifically, this paper will address the question of whether or not such programs are a desirable policy for reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. This topic was chosen because it is evident that something needs to be done to stop the spread of AIDS, a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in nations around the world. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that approximately 25 percent of AIDS cases in the U.S. are found among IDUs (“Needle Exchanges” 112). HIV, the blood-borne virus that causes AIDS, is often spread among this population through the sharing of syringe needles. The virus can then be spread to the general population through sexual transmission. NEPs are regarded as a possible way to deal with this problem. The idea is that IDUs will learn “harm reduction” practices, even if they are unable to quit using intravenous drugs. However, NEPs are controversial because drugs are illegal and many people refuse to be tolerant toward drug addicts in any way. The opponents of NEPs believe that needles are a form of drug paraphernalia and should thus be banned, not openly exchanged.
Despite this point of view, there are several arguments in favor of NEPs. First, there is a great deal of empirical evidence showing that such programs are effective. The introduction of NEPs in Australia, for example, resulted in a dramatic decrease in HIV infections between 1991 and 2000 as well as a substantial decrease in national healthcare costs (Loff & Wodak 1403). An international study commissioned by the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health showed an average annual 18.6% decrease in HIV prevalence in cities with NEPs, compared to an average annual 8.1% increase in cities without such programs (Loff & Wodak 1403). A study in New York City found that the rate of HIV infections among IDUs was reduced from 50% to 30% within six years following the introduction of NEPs (“Research Shows” 76). A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that IDUs were 2.68 times more likely to quit sharing needles when they made use of NEP services (“Research Shows” 76). A study at the University of California at Davis found IDUs using NEPs were up to six times more likely to make this change (Nelson 1570). A study at Johns Hopkins University found that 80% of IDUs stopped sharing needles after they starting using NEPs (“Most Exchange Participants” 7). There have also been studies showing positive impacts of NEPs among IDUs in prisons (Hammett 974).
Another argument in favor of NEPs is that they help reduce the spread of HIV by being “points of contact for drug users who seek to enter treatment” (“Needle Exchange” 112). Obviously, if IDUs are able to stop their addiction, there is less of a chance of them spreading HIV through the sharing of needles...

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