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Thursday, July 21, 2016

HIV: Needle Exchange Necessity

The spread of infectious disease was once a rare occurrence in rural America, new cases of hepatitis C and HIV were quite uncommon. Sadly, that is no longer the case—being another byproduct of the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic tearing through the American heartland. Last year, we wrote about an outbreak of HIV occurring in Indiana which was believed to be linked to the intravenous use of Opana—a powerful opioid that was once lauded as being harder to tamper with. Clearly, tampering with Opana to be used via snorting or injection is not that difficult.

That being said, when we wrote about the Indiana HIV outbreak, now nearly a year and a half ago, there were only 24 confirmed cases linked to Opana. Between November 2014 and November 2015 in Scott County, Indiana alone, there were 181 new cases of HIV linked to IV Opana use, HealthDay reports. Such a staggering number should be a clear sign that needle exchanges are a must in rural parts of the country. The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It was the largest outbreak that has occurred in the U.S. since the introduction of HIV treatment," said lead author Dr. Philip Peters, a medical officer with the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). "And it occurred in a poor and rural community. We have not seen HIV outbreaks in these types of communities before."

A number of lawmakers across the country are still resistant to offering clean syringe services, despite rampant needle sharing and the spread of infectious disease. While some have come around in the wake of the recent HIV and hep C outbreaks in rural regions, it is still difficult to come across clean needles.

In fact, a report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that rural opioid users are more likely than urban addicts to tamper with prescription opioids to be injected, according to the article. The finding underscores just how important syringe service programs are just for stemming the spread of disease. People with opioid use disorders seeking clean needles are in unique position. Addiction recovery counselors are typically onsite at needle exchanges, which means they can discuss recovery options with people seeking syringes.

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