Surge of HIV Cases Among Drug Users in Indiana Underscores Value of Syringe Services Programs
New brief from amfAR decries decades-long ban on use of federal funds
for these highly effective programs
NEW YORK, April 14, 2015 - Amid growing evidence that HIV and hepatitis C are on the
rise among people who inject drugs (PWID) in some parts of the United States, amfAR, The Foundation for
AIDS Research, today released a new brief that
underscores the importance of syringe service programs (SSPs) as a highly effective tool in the fight
against the spread of each of these preventable infections. Despite an overwhelming body of
scientific evidence demonstrating their effectiveness, however, the U.S. Government
continues to prohibit the use of federal funds for SSPs.
At least eight percent of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. each year occur among
injecting drug users. And according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one
quarter of all people with HIV are also infected with hepatitis C.
Syringe service programs help curb the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C by
providing access to sterile syringes. By facilitating the safe disposal of contaminated syringes,
SSPs also reduce the risk of needle-stick injuries among law enforcement officers and the
public. They also provide preventive health services such as HIV testing and form vital
bridges to drug treatment and overdose prevention.
More than 200 SSPs are currently operating in 34 states in the U.S. and are supported primarily through
publicly allocated funds from state and local governments. But a Congressional ban in effect since 1988
prohibits the use of federal funds to support SSPs, thus preventing state and local jurisdictions
from spending their federal public health allocations on these programs.
The CDC has recently issued warnings over the spikes in HIV or hepatitis C diagnoses among people who
inject drugs in rural Indiana and Kentucky. This has prompted state and local officials in both states
to implement SSPs to help reduce any further transmission. Prior to the disease outbreaks in either
state, Kentucky had no SSPs statewide, and Indiana had only one.
“The new cases of HIV and hepatitis C among injecting drug users in Indiana and Kentucky could have
been prevented if syringe service programs were in place,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin
Robert Frost. “For too long, government officials have refused to acknowledge the proven public
health benefits of syringe service programs in spite of the scientific evidence.”
According to amfAR's brief, “Preventing HIV and Hepatitis C Among People Who Inject Drugs: Public Funding for Syringe Services Programs Makes the Difference,” a recent
study by researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City found that states with laws that
allowed SSPs, provided public funding for them, and permitted over-the-counter sales of syringes
had either declining HIV cases among drug users from 1985 through 2012 (if diagnoses were high)
or never witnessed a rise in HIV infections among PWID in the first place (if diagnoses were low).
Furthermore, SSPs have been shown not only to save lives, but also to save millions of dollars in HIV
treatment costs. Estimates show that expanding the availability of syringe service programs to cover
just 10 percent of injections would avert nearly 500 new HIV infections annually. An expansion of
that size would cost approximately $64 million while saving an estimated $193 million in
treatment costs averted.
A stark reminder of the effectiveness of comprehensive drug treatment is a comparison of the number of
HIV infections between New York City and Scott County, Indiana (the location of the latest HIV
outbreak among PWID). The number of new HIV diagnoses in Scott County, Indiana in the
first three months of 2015 alone (population 24,000) is nearly double the number of new
HIV diagnoses among the estimated 100,000 people who inject drugs in New York City of
the last calendar year of available data from the NYC Department of Health. A
likely factor in the discrepancy is the expansion of SSPs in New York City
in the early 1990s contributed to a dramatic reduction in new HIV
infections among PWIDs, declining from 54 percent of the City's
HIV cases in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001.
“We are witnessing a changing landscape of injection drug use in America as it shifts from largely
urban areas to more rural localities. Unless we adopt sound public health policies that have
proven to work in urban areas, we may see spikes in HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses in less
populated areas of the country,” said Greg Millett, amfAR Vice President and Director
of Public Policy. “ Following the best available science and eliminating
restrictions on how states can use federal funds is imperative to advance public health practice.”
For more information about the economic advantages and human impact of SSPs, visit http://theexchange.amfar.org .
The full report , “Preventing HIV and Hepatitis C Among People Who Inject Drugs: Public Funding for Syringe Services Programs Makes the Difference,” is
available on amfAR's web site here.
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world's leading nonprofit organizations dedicated
to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound
AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested $415 million in its programs and
has awarded more than 3,300 grants to research teams worldwide.
Joana Casas, Program Communications Manager
(212) 806-1602; firstname.lastname@example.org
"Reproduced with permission - amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research"
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research
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