US Surgeon General's Latest Research Review Supports Needle Exchange Programs 6/23/00

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Surgeon General David Satcher and the Department of Health and Human Services have completed a review of all peer-reviewed, scientific studies of needle exchange programs completed since April 1988.  Their primary conclusion follows:

"The senior scientists of the Department and I [the Surgeon General] have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does not encourage the illegal use of drugs."  (The report is available at http://www.harmreduction.org/surgreview.html.)

Completed in response to a request by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the report, also addresses numerous issues within the needle exchange debate.  The findings, as summarized by the American Foundation for Aids Research, only strengthen the case for needle exchange as a key tool in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS:

  • Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) consistently attract persons with highest risk profiles for HIV infection and severe drug use and are successful in referring clients into detoxification and substance abuse treatment programs.
  • SEP-referred clients have similar rates of retention in substance abuse treatment as individuals from standard referral sources, despite severe baseline drug use and high-risk lifestyles.
  • Clients participating in SEPs have decreased reuse of contaminated syringes and reduced sharing of injection equipment.
  • The data indicate that the presence of a syringe exchange program does not increase the use of illegal drugs among participants, and in many cases, a decrease in injection frequency has been observed among those attending these programs.
  • Provision of sterile injection equipment through SEPs and pharmacy access is cost-effective; one HIV infection can be prevented for one-third the cost of medical care for an infected person.
  • The scientific evidence accumulated to date provides a basis on which municipalities that are heavily affected by an HIV epidemic driven by injection drug use should consider syringe exchange programs as a tool for the identification, referral, and retention of active users of injection drugs into these services, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention plan.
In related news, the American Medical Association has taken the position that physicians should be allowed to prescribe sterile syringes to persons addicted to injection drug use.  The platform was approved by delegates at the recent AMA convention.

Visit http://www.harmreduction.org/surgeon1.html to see AMFAR's summary of the review in its entirety.

Visit http://www.dogwoodcenter.org/survivors/survivehome.html for personal stories of people affected by injection-related AIDS and the absence of needle exchange.

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