This latest round of funding comes at a critical time, as the nation struggles to address the opioid epidemic and disease outbreaks resulting from injection drug use.
NEW YORK, Feb. 1, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — The Syringe Access Fund today announced nearly $2.4 million in grants awarded to 62 organizations that are driving efforts to prevent HIV and viral hepatitis by providing injection drug users with access to sterile injection equipment and related health messaging. The funding will support syringe service programs and advocacy efforts to increase access to these programs in 32 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands through 2020, many of which serve the very same communities impacted by increased injection drug use stemming from the opioid epidemic that currently rages across the country.
“Injection drug use has always been a primary mode of transmission for both HIV and viral hepatitis, and the sharing of needles continues to result in thousands of new HIV transmissions each year,” said Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “In light of recent HIV outbreaks linked to injection drug use, which threaten to curb the progress we’ve made toward ending HIV, this is a critical time to continue resourcing programs that provide clean needles and other equipment to injection drug users, because these programs are proven to help prevent the spread of the disease.”
Public health officials fear that removing the item from the kits may lead to more outbreaks of hepatitis C and HIV.
Under pressure from community critics and law enforcement, Indiana’s Madison County Board of Health voted to remove “cookers” from harm reduction kits distributed by a local syringe exchange program.
Cookers are metal bowls slightly larger than the size of a quarter. People who inject drugs typically pour powder into them, then add water and apply heat to turn the substance into an injectable solution. It’s a key ingredient in reducing the spread of blood-borne disease, which can be transmitted when people share cookers.
The harm reduction law aims to curb the transmission of hepatitis C and other blood-borne infectious diseases.
Health agencies throughout the state of Virginia have been given the green light to distribute clean syringes to intravenous (IV) drug users. The new law allowing syringe access programs was signed in February by Governor Terry McAuliffe, and went into effect July 1st.
After declaring the state’s opioid crisis a public health emergency back in November, the governor and state officials are hoping to reduce the transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.
Cherokee hopes to combat the high Hepatitis C rates resulting from the heroin epidemic with a needle exchange program, aiming to have the program in place by Oct. 1.
“We’ve sat here and we’ve talked about ways to assist and help our communities. Talk is talk is talk. It’s time for action,” said Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, as she introduced legislation June 1 authorizing the tribe’s Public Health and Human Services Department to seek funding for a needle exchange program.
The program would give drug addicts a place to dispose of their used needles and leave with a clean needle, as well as instructions for how to avoid contracting diseases as a result of drug use. The center would also provide direct referrals to treatment and behavioral health for participants who are ready to seek help.
Despite reports of expanding rates of injecting drug use in a new list of countries around the world, no new countries have established needle and syringe programmes in the last three years.
This is one of the headline findings of an exhaustive review of the state of harm reduction services around the world conducted by international NGO Harm Reduction International, presented at the 25th International Harm Reduction Conference (HR17) in Montréal last week.
The absence of any increase in the number of countries that report starting needle and syringe programming is significant. Katie Stone, Research Analyst with Harm Reduction International describes this problem:
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“Growing intravenous drug use by people sharing syringes to inject heroin and other substances” has helped make Kentucky a national hotbed for cases of hepatitis C, “which ultimately could mean a staggering cost to taxpayers to treat people with the disease,” Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“Giving addicts clean needles can help stem the spread of the disease, but many Kentucky counties considered at greatest risk for an outbreak have not approved such programs,” Estep notes. His story has a map of syringe exchanges and the Kentucky counties that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers most at risk for an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C due to IV drug use. Of the 220 counties identified, Kentucky has 54, almost half its total number of counties.
“The programs have only been legal in Kentucky since 2015, when the legislature authorized them in the face of mounting IV drug use,” Estep notes. Now there are 33, nine of which are not in operation yet. They are run by local health departments with approval of the county fiscal court and the city where the exchange is located.
Wayne County’s needle exchange program is continuing to grow, with more clients seeking drug treatment as well as clean needles, county health officials say. And that growth could lead to an expansion of the program.
The Wayne County Health Department started its exchange in August 2016 after winning approval to do so from state health officials. State law allowed for counties to run an exchange for one year before having to apply again to continue the program.
Legislation passed in this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly will make it easier for counties and municipalities to start and continue needle exchange programs, Wayne County Health Department Executive Director Eric Coulter said.
After a slow start in the final months of 2016, the Allen County Syringe Services Program has been progressing well, said Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan on Monday.
“We have been very pleased with the people who have come in,” said McMahan about the center at 519 Oxford St. that has been open since last November. “They have been responsible and have brought in their dirty needles.”
McMahan gave an update on the program — which provides new syringes to drug users in exchange for dirty ones to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C — at Monday evening’s quarterly meeting of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.