The transition from underground to legal syringe exchange: The New York City experience

Lee M. Kochems, Denise Paone, Don C. Des Jarlais, Immanuel Ness, Jessica Clark, Samuel R. Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most common method of syringe exchange program (SEP) development in the United States has been for SEPs to be started by activists without funding and then to become a government-funded community-based organization. This developmental process, which has not been studied to date, involves major organizational change. We report our findings on three New York City syringe exchanges experiencing this type of transition. Our data illustrate that following legalization, increased legitimacy and funding allowed all three SEPs to expand the size and scope of their programs (e.g., adding hours, sites, referral services, and the ability to support user groups), resulting in a rapid growth in participation (over 15,000 in 18 months). Regulation accompanying legalization posed significant challenges to SEPs, including added record-keeping and reporting tasks, increased demand for referrals, and accommodating evaluation, which affected already overburdened staffs. The transition process poses significant challenges to these developing organizations as well as opportunities for improved services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-489
Number of pages19
JournalAIDS Education and Prevention
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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