December is HIV/AIDS Awareness month. Every year, thousands of people in the United States are affected by HIV/AIDS. The CDC notes that in 2020, over 30,000 people received an HIV diagnosis. While diagnoses are decreasing, the numbers are still staggering. Injection drug use contributes a not-insignificant percentage to HIV diagnoses every year. In the year 2020, over 2,000 people were diagnosed with HIV due to injection drug use, and another thousand were diagnosed due to injection drug use and unprotected sexual contact. Thousands of people die due to this disease every year. In order to lower these largely preventable diagnoses and deaths, programs have been set up across the United States for those more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Syringe service programs (SSPs) are community-based programs that allow safe and clean disposal of used syringes while also offering access to sterile syringes. Many SSPs also offer other preventative services, which include a number of overdose prevention programs and services. People using these services may also be referred to substance use disorder treatment programs and can receive counseling. It has been noted that people who participate in syringe exchange programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs than those who have not. Testing for HIV and hepatitis C is another one of the many prevention-focused services that SSPs offer free of charge. Many states across the country have legalized numerous different syringe exchange programs through a variety of strategies. States with laws explicitly permitting syringe exchange include Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. SSPs having sterile needles readily available stops HIV infections before they even have the chance to begin. They keep injection drug users from having to be hospitalized with potential infections, which saves hospitals money, time, and available services for others. States like New York, Wisconsin, and Hawai’i have had dramatic drops in HIV diagnoses and exchanged millions of sterile syringes while referring injection drug users to treatment programs. While further legislative action is necessary for Iowa to participate in these syringe exchange programs, federal funding of over $500,000 annually is available to set up these programs. Through the use of these syringe exchange programs, injection drug users are much more likely to enter drug treatment programs and HIV diagnoses and deaths will dramatically decrease on all fronts.