In defense of needle exchange programs

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Ricky Bluthenthal, professor of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC, is defending needle exchange programs as they face closure in various U.S. cities.

The programs offer clean needles in exchange for old ones to lower the risk of HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks among drug users. Some cities, including Charleston, West Virginia, and Santa Ana, California, have recently shut down needle exchange programs, citing perceived increases in drug use, crime rates, and needle litter—sparking debate about the programs’ effectiveness.

“The studies show that places that have robust programs have lower HIV incidents among people who inject drugs,” Bluthenthal said in an interview with WBUR’s Here & Now May 14.

He addressed misconceptions, addiction stigma and the lack of evidence to support fears around needle exchange programs in Vox’s in-depth look at why Orange County’s Santa Ana program shut down in January.  Outside the U.S., he said, needle exchanges “are part and parcel of a gold-standard response to HIV and hepatitis C prevention.”

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