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Needle Exchange Programs Cut AIDS Risk, Study Finds

November 01, 1994| Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Handing out clean needles to drug users appears to cut their risk of AIDS in half, a new study concludes.

More than 40 U.S. cities have needle exchange programs, but evidence that they actually reduce the risk of AIDS infection has been slim. Most of the data has come from studies in Europe, where AIDS among drug addicts is generally far less common than in the United States, especially the Northeast.

The latest study was based on a needle exchange program in New York City, where about half the city's 200,000 intravenous drug abusers are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. Addicts can become infected with the virus if they share needles.

The effort, sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, has provided clean injection supplies to 22,000 users.

Dr. Don C. Des Jarlais of New York's Beth Israel Medical Center presented data on the program's results Monday at a meeting in Washington of the American Public Health Assn.

"The best estimate of the effect of the program for the people who come in is that it probably reduces the new infection rate by about half," he said.

The findings were based on 350 users whose saliva was tested for HIV when they enrolled in the program and when they returned to pick up clean needles. Des Jarlais calculated that their annual risk of infection was 2%.

For ethical reasons, the researchers did not enroll a comparison group that was deprived of clean needles. However, other studies of addicts in New York suggest that about 5% a year are infected.

Those participating in the study were frequent drug users, averaging three injections a day. In the month before the needle exchange, they rented or bought used syringes an average of 16 times. After the program, this fell to four times.

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