Unfortunately, the preventive efforts for white injection drug users had not proved as successful. Syringe sharing among white injection drug users remained about the same from 2005 (45%) to 2015 (43%). The percentage of white injection drug users who reported receiving all of their syringes from sterile sources also remained static, at a meager 22% over the decade-long study. The CDC notes that although a decline in the number of overall HIV diagnoses in white injection drug users was reported to have declined from 2008 to 2014 by around 27%, the number has remained “stable” from 2012 to 2014.
In a press release
, Dr. Friedman commented, “The prescription opioid and heroin epidemics are devastating families and communities throughout the nation, and the potential for new HIV outbreaks is of growing concern. Our goal is for people to live long enough to stop substance use and not contract HIV or other serious infections while injecting—SSPs can help people accomplish both.”
According to Dr. Friedman, SSPs work; they have low cost with a high impact, which can prevent a number of HIV cases, and ultimately save a number of lives. These programs not only work to provide those who inject drugs with sterile injecting equipment, but also, access to prevention, care, and treatment services. In the telebriefing, Dr. Friedman described SSPs as a “link between those who use drugs and the healthcare system.” This link only serves to benefit these individuals; they are provided with tools for infection prevention (such as condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) and can also be referred for substance use disorder treatment. Both of these provisions work in a synchronized effort to put a stop to drug use as well as HIV or hepatitis transmission and infection.
According to Dr. Mermin, “Until now, the nation has made substantial progress in preventing HIV among people who inject drugs, but this success is threatened. Syringe services programs work, and their expansion is pivotal for progress in the coming decades.”
Access to SSPs varies across the United States and the CDC notes that implementation of these programs is decided at the state and local level. In the telebriefing, Dr. Mermin mentioned that the CDC has approved 15 states and select counties to utilize funding provided by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) towards expanding access to SSPs. The CDC recommends that states “ensure people who inject drugs have effective prevention services, including sterile injection equipment, medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder, and HIV and hepatitis testing.” When speaking of next steps, Eugene McCray, MD, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention commented in the press release, “It is encouraging to see prevention efforts paying off in African-American and Latino communities. We must now take concrete steps that build upon and accelerate that progress. HIV risk remains too high for all people who inject drugs.”
To stay informed on the latest in infectious disease news and developments, please sign up for our weekly newsletter.