We now have had 15 years of public discussion of and research on needle exchange programs. The data have shown these programs to be usually, but not always, effective in limiting HIV transmission among injection drug users. Needle exchange programs are conceptualized within a larger framework of providing ready availability of sterile injection equipment for injection drug users. Continuing research is clearly needed regarding how to maximize the availability of sterile injection equipment and how to integrate this with other needed health and social services for drug users. Many initial opponents of needle exchange programs have become supporters of the programs. The number of programs in the United States has been increasing by about 20% per year,13 and this can be considered substantial progress in reducing HIV infection among injection drug users. Important opposition remains, however, based primarily on the symbolic values expressed in government support for the programs. These value conflicts over needle exchange, which have existed since it was first considered in the United States, cannot be resolved with data. In the late 1980s, the value conflicts greatly hampered the collection of relevant data - there was no federal funding of research on needle exchange programs. Currently, there is considerable research on needle exchange, but many researchers are quite concerned about possible misuse of findings. This may be considered progress to an important but modest degree. Whether current and future research will be used to improve HIV prevention efforts remains to be seen.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health