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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lawmakers Change Their Minds About Needle Exchange Programs

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" - John Maynard Keynes

It is a commonly held belief in many parts of the United States that programs that allow IV drug users to exchange their dirty needles for clean needles encourages drug use - despite any scientific evidence to support the idea. This has resulted in extremely limited access to clean needles for thousands of addicts in the: Appalachian region, Midwest, and South.

As the nation continues to grapple with excessive prescription opioid and heroin abuse, many states in those parts of the country have seen a dramatic rise in infectious disease transmission.

The recent outbreaks of hepatitis C and HIV has led many lawmakers, who were historically opposed to needle exchange programs, to change their mind, Reuters reports. The state of Indiana has had an outbreak of HIV directly linked to the prescription opioid Opana ®, and Kentucky has been forced to address a hepatitis C outbreak tied to IV drug use. Sadly, Indiana and Kentucky are not alone in the fight to curb this growing problem.

"Some of the most conservative members of the community are supporting this now because they understand it," said Scott Lockard, president of the Kentucky Health Departments Association. 

In the United States, Kentucky has the highest rate of hepatitis C, which prompted State Senator Wil Schroder to change his mind about needle exchanges and now he is urging his fellow lawmakers to follow suit. More than 56,000 Kentucky residents have hepatitis C, according to the report.

In Scott County, Indiana, a rural sector of the state consisting of 24,000 residents, they have seen 175 new HIV cases since December, the article reports. This led Indiana Governor Mike to approve the state's first needle exchange program in March, and a clinic opened shortly thereafter in Scott County.

"The Scott County outbreak scared everybody because it was easy to look over your shoulder and say we've got all the conditions here to be next," said Daniel Raymond, policy director of the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition. "What's driving greater acceptance of needle exchanges is we don't have time to fight over ideology. We need to do something now because we're losing too many people." 

Currently, there are 34 states that have active clean needle programs, according to the article. Since 2012, two needle exchange programs opened in Southern Ohio. West Virginia plans to open a pilot needle exchange program in September.

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