Needle-exchange programs are effective tools to fight the spread of infectious disease and steer heroin users into treatment, according to Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“They’ve been demonstrated to reduce not only infectious disease but also create an opportunity for people to get the care and provide a transition into treatment for people in the community,” he said. The programs also reduce the risk that law enforcement officers will become infected if they are accidentally stuck by a needle, he added.
Botticelli, speaking at an event sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, also called for mandatory medical education for prescribers to help fight prescription drug abuse, the Associated Press reports. He was invited by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to visit northern Kentucky, which has been especially hard hit by heroin addiction.
More states and cities are considering needle-exchange programs as a way to fight the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among intravenous drug users.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear recently signed a bill into law that will allow local health departments to set up needle exchanges after obtaining approval from local governments.
In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence declared a state of emergency in response to a growing number of HIV cases linked to intravenous use of the painkiller Opana. He authorized a short-term program in one county to allow people to exchange used needles for sterile ones, to reduce the risk of contaminated needles being shared.
There are about 200 needle-exchange programs in 33 states and the District of Columbia, according to the North American Syringe Exchange Network.
Supporters of needle-exchange programs say they reduce disease transmission, and can connect intravenous drug users with treatment programs. Critics say the programs sanction drug use, and discourage people from seeking treatment.