The number of people who inject drugs and share needles has remained at a similar level to that of 10 years ago, despite the use of syringe services programs (SSPs) increasing substantially during that period.

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assessed people who inject drugs in 22 U.S. cities with a high incidence of HIV. Researchers found that in 2015, 33% of people who inject drugs reported that they shared a needle in the past year, compared to 36% who reported sharing in 2005.

Even though the drop in those sharing needles has dropped minimally, the CDC is maintaining its stance in support of SSPs. “Syringe services programs work, and their expansion is pivotal for progress in the coming decades,” said Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS.  

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The study found that 54% of those who inject drugs in these cities have used an SSP in the previous year, compared to only 36% in 2005. Each year, approximately 9% of HIV infections diagnosed in the U.S. are among those who inject drugs. In recent years, injection drug use has also contributed to a 150% increase in acute cases of hepatitis C infections.

“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, MD, MPH.

The CDC has recommended that states ensure people who inject drugs have access to effective prevention services, such that are offered at SSPs.  Comprehensive SSPs provide sterile needles and syringes and offer or refer people who inject drugs to prevention, care and treatment services. However, the implementation decisions of SSPs are made at state and local levels and access varies across the country.

“Until now, the nation has made substantial progress in preventing HIV among people who inject drugs, but this success is threatened,” said Dr. Mermin.

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