Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Needle Exchange Saves Lives

HIV/AIDS is back in the headlines (a little) long after compassion fatigue pushed it out. Yes, HIV and AIDS still exist in this country and around the world. We do hear a bit about it around the world, but not much about it in this country. Granted it is a much more treatable disease than it used to be, but it hasn’t been cured. People still get infected with HIV and people still die form AIDS (although thankfully much less often than when I first started treating individuals with HIV/AIDS, I was a “specialist” for 10 years).

The news “splash” coincides with the 16th International AIDS Conference and the 25th anniversary of the infection. I saw a headline with Bill Gates and Bill Clinton promising to eradicate HIV/AIDS (I seriously doubt it and have doubted that possibility all along). One article that did catch my attention was one on needle exchange. That is a “battle” I have fought in the past. It is a battle fought and won all over the world, won except here in the US, of course.

Providing clean needles to drug IV users is an incredibly effective way to prevent the spread of HIV among people who inject drugs and through them their partners/spouses and children. It has been demonstrated, just as conclusively, that it does this without encouraging the use of illegal drugs (as Surgeon General David Satcher reported to Congress in 2002).

While most states have at least some access to clean needles for individuals, this should be a national policy and a national program. A clean syringe costs about 10 cents. Compare that to a lifetime of care at $195,000 or the cost of a life. Needle exchange is a life-saving health intervention and we ought to be about saving lives.

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