AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Marks National Day of Action for Syringe Access
BOSTON, March 20, 2012—Tomorrow is the National Day of Action for Syringe Access. AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts will mark the day by raising awareness of the need for safe access to sterile syringes by sharing information about syringe access via social media.
“The recent decision by Congress to reinstate a ban on federal funding of syringe exchange programs prioritizes political ideology over public health. The ban, which was lifted in 2009 after being in place for two decades, directly undermines President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which highlights needle exchange programs as an evidence-based way of reducing HIV infections,” said Rebecca Haag, President & CEO of AIDS Action Committee.
Since needle exchange programs were established in Massachusetts, including the program operated by AIDS Action, 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.
AIDS Action’s Needle Exchange Program is one of four state-sanctioned and funded syringe exchange programs in Massachusetts, and one of just 211 operating in the United States. 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. Syringe exchange programs can help reduce hepatitis C infections by 10 to 20 percent each year. They also serve as a bridge to treatment for drug addiction.
“Lack of access to sterile syringes increases health care costs associated with new infections of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections,” said Haag. “These infections and health care costs are otherwise entirely avoidable. It is unconscionable to block access to sterile syringes when they can save lives.”
AIDS Action is joining AIDS and viral hepatitis activists around the country in demanding an end to the Congressional ban on federal funding for access to sterile syringes. The National Day of Action for Syringe Access marks the first of a series of actions designed to bring awareness and attention to the need for safe access to sterile syringes.
For more information about syringe access, follow the #321syringe hashtag and visit the National Day of Action on Syringe Access on Facebook.
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is the state’s leading provider of prevention and wellness services for people vulnerable to HIV infection. It provides services to one in six people in Massachusetts living with an HIV diagnosis. These services include HIV counseling and testing; needle exchange; mental health counseling; housing assistance; and legal services. AIDS Action works to prevent new HIV infections, support those affected by HIV, and tackle the root causes of HIV/AIDS by educating the public and health professionals about HIV prevention and care; and advocating for fair and effective HIV/AIDS policy at the city, state, and federal levels. Founded in 1983, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is New England’s first and largest AIDS service organization. In 2013, AIDS Action formed a strategic alliance with Fenway Health that will allow the two organizations to work more closely together and improve delivery of care and services to people living with HIV/AIDS. Learn more at www.aac.org.