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CDC Report Encourages Expanding Syringe Exchange Programs

In a new report on injected drugs and the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, the Centers for Disease Control advocates for the expansion of syringe exchange programs.

Syringe exchange programs provide clean needles to people who inject drugs with the goal of limiting needle sharing, which can spread HIV and Hepatitis C.

Indiana lawmakers legalized the creation of syringe exchanges in the Hoosier state in 2015, and roughly a year and a half later eight counties have state-approved programs.

In Monroe County, where the Indiana Recovery Alliance has operated a syringe exchange program since February 2016, more than 110,000 used needles have been collected.

"Syringe exchanges offer invaluable services outside of just syringe access, so perhaps as important to report are the links to care we have offered to an otherwise inaccessible population," said Indiana Recovery Alliance director Chris Abert in an email.

Abert says the Monroe County program has distributed more than 4,000 kits of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and says more than 150 lives have been saved as a result.

Daniel Raymond is the Policy Director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that advocates for syringe exchange programs. He says the report affirms that the programs work.

“Since the Indiana HIV outbreak, the policy landscape for syringe exchange has shifted dramatically," Raymond said in a statement. "For communities on the frontlines of the opioid and heroin crisis, the pressing questions about syringe exchange are no longer whether to implement them, but how quickly they can scale up.”

According to the CDC report, more than half of people who inject drugs used a syringe exchange program in 2015, and one in 10 HIV diagnoses are among people who inject drugs.

The report also points out shifting demographics among people who inject drugs, with sharp increases among white drug users.

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