D.C. Needle Policy Change Led to Massive HIV Infection Decline in 2 Years

Syringe exchange programs for injection drug users have proved successful at decreasing rates of needle sharing without increasing rates of illegal drug use. But for years, a policy shortcoming made Washington, D.C., the only city in the country that could not fund them. Caught between federal and local jurisdiction, the District has long faced issues regarding its autonomy. And according to research published Thursday, those policy issues can cost lives.

In 1998, the federal government banned the use of federal funding for syringe exchange programs. State and local governments could fund them, but the District could not. In 2007, the federal government altered that policy, and the District's municipal government began funding programs in 2008.

In a new study in the journal AIDS and Behavior, researchers used mathematical modeling to calculate how many HIV infections the policy change prevented and how much money it saved. The researchers found that in the two years after the municipal money started flowing following the policy change, there were 176 new HIV cases reported in the District involving injection drug use. Without that policy change, the researchers estimated, the number would have been 296 cases. The policy change had helped avert 120 cases.

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