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Syringe Services Program Use is Increasing, But Increased Access Needed to Improve HIV Prevention Efforts

NOV 30, 2016 | KRISTI ROSA
For a while now it has been known that injection drug users are at an increased risk for transmission of infections, particularly HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses. Through sharing syringes and needles, opiate use has substantially threatened progress made in preventive efforts. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been pushing syringe service programs, or SSPs, with the hopes that these programs will work to decrease the amount of virus transmission amongst injection drug users.

Although AIDS diagnoses amongst injection drug users has significantly decreased by 90% since 1993, the CDC has identified that there is a great need for sterile injecting equipment among individuals who take drugs. According to the CDC, one in 10 HIV diagnoses are among those who inject drugs and recently, “injection drug use has also contributed to a 150% increase in acute cases of hepatitis C infections.”

In a telebriefing this afternoon, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH and Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of National Center for HIV/AIDs, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, discussed a new CDC Vital Signs report that had been published today. This report took a closer look into the uptake and effectiveness of SSPs amongst injection drug users of all different ethnicities, from 22 cities where about half of US-HIV cases are diagnosed. The CDC’s analyses came from CDC’s National HIV Behavioral Surveillance system data, a system that has been following behavior risk since 2005 in individuals who inject drugs.

The analyses found that the number of individuals who inject drugs and are partaking in SSPs has substantially increased since 2005. In fact, in 2015, 54% of injection drug users reported having used an SSP in the past year, whereas, in 2005 only 36% claimed to have used one of these programs. Although this increased use of SSPs is definitely an improvement in preventive action against HIV and other harmful infections that can be transmitted through contaminated needles, the CDC also found that the number of injection drug users using only sterile needles leaves much to be desired. In 2015, 33% admitted to sharing a needle with someone else in the past year, making it only a 3% decrease in needle-sharing from 2005.
In addition, the CDC’s Vital Signs report showed that when it comes to HIV prevention in African American and Latino injection drug users, the numbers seem to be improving. The CDC reported a 48% increase in 2015, of African American injection drug users who received all of their syringe equipment from a sterile source and a 34% decrease in syringe sharing, from 2005. From 2008 to 2011, the overall number of HIV diagnoses declined among African Americans by a whopping 60% in the US. From 2005 to 2015, the number of Latino injection drug users who partook in sharing syringes declined by 12%. From 2008 to 2014, the number of overall HIV diagnoses had declined by 50%.

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