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Syringe Services Programs: Effective for HIV Prevention

Summary: According to the latest CDC Vital Signs, only 1 in 4 people who inject drugs (PWID) in 22 US cities reported getting all their needles from sterile sources.

cdc-vital-signs-syringe-servicesAccording to the latest CDC Vital Signs report, only 1 in 4 people who inject drugs (PWID) in 22 US cities reported getting all their needles from sterile sources, and one-third (33%) reported sharing a needle within the past year. Sharing needles and syringes is a direct route of transmission for HIV and hepatitis B and C viruses. Scientific studies have found that syringe services programs (SSPs) are an effective way to reduce HIV transmission and that they promote entry to, and retention in, drug treatment and medical services, without increasing illegal drug use. Use of SSPs has increased substantially during the past decade, but more SSPs are needed to prevent HIV.

Comprehensive SSPs provide sterile needles and syringes and offer other prevention, care, and treatment services, including safe disposal of needles and syringes, overdose treatment and education, hepatitis A and B vaccination, referral to mental health services, referral to substance use disorder treatment, HIV and hepatitis testing, counseling, condoms, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP, a medicine to prevent HIV).

One consequence of the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic is the increased risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C transmission through unsafe injection drug use. “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,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Comprehensive SSPs prevent HIV and hepatitis transmission and bridge patients to services that help them stop substance use.”

This Vital Signs report highlights some successes in HIV prevention among African Americans and Latinos who inject drugs, as well as worrying trends in whites who inject drugs. The percentage of African Americans and Latinos who inject drugs who reported syringe sharing declined while high levels of syringe sharing continued among whites who inject drugs.

“It is encouraging to see prevention efforts working in African-American and Latino communities,” said Eugene McCray, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “We must now take concrete steps that build upon and accelerate that progress. HIV risk remains too high for all people who inject drugs.”

States and local health departments can:

  • Use data on HIV, hepatitis, substance use, and overdoses to determine where services are needed.
  • Provide HIV and hepatitis testing and prevention services for PWID.
  • Ensure treatment is available for overdoses, HIV, hepatitis, and substance use disorder, and inform first responders about available resources.

Certain state and local prevention programs can use their federal funds to support some components of SSPs [PDF 977 KB] (but not to buy needles, syringes, and other injection equipment).

To learn more, visit the Vital Signs HIV and Injection Drug Use web page.