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Drug injection-related disease
and needle exchange

The spread of infectious diseases like AIDS and hepatitis through syringe sharing by injection drug users is one of the most serious threats to public health being faced today. As of June 1997, 221,000 people, making up more than a third of all reported AIDS cases in the U.S., had contracted AIDS directly or indirectly through shared syringes -- drug injectors, their sexual partners, and their children -- and 128,000 had died.

Today's extensive needle sharing and its deadly consequences are a result of the War on Drugs. In the U.S. and time and again worldwide, drug crackdowns have sparked the popularization of extremely potent forms of drug-taking like heroin injection. State laws prohibiting syringe sales without a prescription, or possession of a syringe for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs, have made sterile syringes hard to come by and led to massive sharing and spread of deadly diseases at epidemic levels. In minority populations that are subjected to massive police presence, injectors avoid carrying syringes for more than minimal period of time, in order to avoid arrest, but thereby causing needle sharing to occur with even greater frequency. An African American drug injector is almost five times as likely to be diagnosed with AIDS as a white drug injector, and a Latino drug injector is more than three times more likely.

Overwhelming scientific evidence has shown that needle exchange programs, and pharmacy syringe availability, reduce the spread of disease without increasing the use of drugs; conversely, laws prohibiting syringes distribution, and police actions against needle exchange programs, increase the spread of AIDS and cause needless loss of life. Yet infectious diseases are now seen as a weapon in the war on drugs, and various elected officials have stated outright that they see the risk of AIDS as a useful deterrent to the use of drugs.

Drug warriors say they are fighting "for the children," but current policies are killing children with infected needles. As of June 1997, more than half of all children born with AIDS were the children of drug injectors or their sexual partners.

(Data from "Health Emergency," the Dogwood Center, and "Syringe Availability Factsheet," the Lindesmith Center.)

See also

  • Harm Reduction: a compassionate and realistic approach to drug abuse


    National organizations:

    North American Syringe Exchange Network, international organization dedicated to creation, expansion and continuation of syringe exchange programs.

    more membership and professional organizations, and local volunteer opportunities...

    California Governor Offers to Sign Revised Needle Exchange Bill (Sept. 3, 1999)

    more news...

    "I am a convicted criminal. As a matter of fact, my criminal activities are ongoing..."

    read Diana's story

    Visit Syringe Exchange Resources Online, our comprehensive new web site providing access to a wealth of online information

    Drug War Facts: Syringe Exchange from Commonsense for Drug Policy

    Health Emergency 1999: The spread of HIV/AIDS among African Americans and Latinos A new report from the Dogwood Center

    The Lindesmith Center's online collection of syringe exchange research information


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