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National Day of Action for Syringe Access

Last Updated: March 21, 2012

It’s indisputable that safe access to sterile syringes reduces the transmission of HIV. Access to sterile syringes has been credited with reducing the incidence of HIV infection by 80 percent among people who use injection drugs.

Numerous U.S.-funded studies, including several conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, have shown that syringe access programs effectively reduce the transmission of HIV and do not promote the use of injection drugs. In fact, such programs often serve as a bridge to treatment for drug addiction.

Here in Massachusetts the percentage of new cases of HIV attributable to injection drug use dropped from 41 percent in 1995 to under 10 percent in 2009. Aggressive prevention, education, and outreach to injection drug users is one of the many ways Massachusetts has been able to reduce new diagnoses of HIV by 54 percent since 1999. This has spared more than 5,000 people who otherwise would have become infected with HIV untold suffering, and it will also save the Commonwealth more than $2 billion in health care expenditures.

Despite all this, Congress recently banned the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs. Federal funds have been used for such programs without incident since 2009. (Previously, a ban on federal funding on syringe exchange programs had been in place since 1989.) The move makes no sense and puts thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people at greater risk for contracting HIV and/or viral hepatitis.

AIDS Action’s Needle Exchange Program is one of four state-sanctioned and funded syringe exchange programs in Massachusetts. The program distributes and exchanges syringes to active injection drug users. The program also operates a drop-in center where members can access risk reduction supplies such as crack kits, safer injection supplies, and condoms. Members can participate in periodic groups as well as receive individual risk reduction counseling, information and referrals to medical, substance use, and other social service providers.

Access to sterile syringes also helps reduce the spread of hepatitis C. Approximately 100,000 people in Massachusetts are infected with hepatitis C and there are about 7,000 to 10,000 new diagnoses annually. Since 2007, there have been approximately 1,000 cases of hepatitis C infection each year among young people aged 15 to 25 years, and these infections are driven largely through the shared used of syringes.

Today is the National Day of Action for Syringe Access. AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is marking the day by raising awareness of the need for safe access to sterile syringes by sharing information about syringe access through our social media channels.

You can participate by sharing this blog post on twitter with the hashtag #321syringe, going to Facebook and liking the National Day of Action on Syringe Access page, and contacting your federal representatives and asking them to lift the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs. 

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