Needle exchange programs in two large U.S. cities prevented thousands of new HIV infections and saved hundreds of millions of dollars, researchers say.
Needle, or syringe, exchange programs prevented nearly 10,600 new cases of HIV in Philadelphia and almost 1,900 new cases of HIV in Baltimore over 10 years, leading to significant savings for the cities, the new study found.
"Small investments in syringe exchange programs yield large savings in treatment costs," said principal investigator Monica Ruiz. She's an associate professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, in Washington, D.C.
"Syringe exchange programs represent a powerful way to stop the spread of HIV, especially in communities struggling to fight the opioid epidemic," Ruiz added in a university news release.
The programs provide sterile injection equipment to injection drug users in order to reduce the sharing of needles, which can spread HIV.
Most people who use injection drugs are covered by public health insurance. Philadelphia saved about $243 million every year due to the drop in new HIV cases, while Baltimore saved about $62 million a year, the researchers concluded.
The study also looked at the lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV and the cost of a needle exchange program. The investigators found that the one-year return on syringe exchange program investment was nearly $183 million in Philadelphia, and about $47 million in Baltimore.
The findings may help policymakers understand the benefits of funding needle exchange programs, according to the researchers.
"Giving injection drug users access to clean syringes can not only help them avoid HIV but often helps them obtain other health services, including access to drug treatment programs," Ruiz said. "Such programs offer communities huge public health and societal benefits, including a reduction in new HIV cases and cost savings to publicly funded HIV care."
The study will be published online Dec. 1 in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
The ACLU has more on needle exchange programs.
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