Needle Exchange Programs and Debate Over Government Funding

The Arguments For and Against Government Funded Needle Exchange Programs

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The key to slowing the HIV epidemic is HIV prevention, and one preventive method is through needle exchange.

Let's learn more about needle exchange and whether this HIV preventive method should be funded by the federal government.

What is Needle Exchange?

Sharing needles and other drug equipment between injection drug users is one way in which HIV is spread. In fact, according to the CDC, in 2010, 8 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States were due to injection drug use.

Needle exchange involves providing clean, sterile needles and syringes to intravenous drug users in exchange for their used syringes and needles. The purpose of needle exchange is to decrease the spread of HIV, as well as other infectious diseases, like hepatitis C

Do Needle Exchange Programs Prevent HIV Infection?

What's all the Fuss About?

If needle exchange is the answer, then why all the fuss? Programs should be funded and put in place across the country. If only it were that easy. The fact of the matter is, needle exchange is a politically charged issue. It's because of the controversial nature of needle exchange that programs are not federally funded. In fact, the law states that needle exchange programs can't be paid for with federal monies. 

The Politics of Needle Exchange

Proponents of Government-funded Needle Exchange Programs

Proponents of needle exchange cite several reasons why the federal government should get involved and offer funding for such programs.

Some of these include:

  • Studies have shown evidence that needle exchange programs lead to decreased rate of HIV transmission among intravenous drug users.
  • Data shows that in several communities in the US and around the world, HIV transmission has increased where needle sharing and injecting drug use is common.
  • Many studies have proven that needle exchange programs lead to decreased rate of HIV transmission among IV drug users.
  • Studies have shown that needle exchange does not increase the incidence of intravenous drug use, needle sharing, or change in how people use drugs — from non-injection to injection
  • Studies have shown that entrance into drug treatment programs are increased in the presence of needle exchange programs.

Opponents of Government-funded Needle Exchange Program

Opponents of federally funded needle exchange point out several concerns, including the following:

  • Some of the studies examining the effectiveness of needle exchange studies in reducing the spread HIV have found only weak evidence that it reduced HIV transmission — or opponents argue that the studies that do show benefits are poorly designed.
  • Funding needle exchange programs sends the "wrong message" to children.
  • Concern that clean needle exchange will lead to an increase in intravenous drug use among populations already ravaged by recreational drug use.
  • Federal funding of exchange programs would allow tax dollars to be used to increase the amount of drug paraphernalia in areas already overburdened with intravenous drug use.
  • Distributing drug paraphernalia is in stark contrast to the accepted morals of our culture.

Final Thoughts

While acceptance and funding of needle exchange programs has continued in the private sector, as well as the state and local level, the federal government continues to not provide funding. If you feel strongly about this issue, please write a letter or become active in your community — let others hear your voice. 


CDC National Prevention Information Network. (2010). Do Needle-Exchange Programs Really Work? Retrieved October 7th 2015. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). HIV/AIDS: HIV and Injection Drug Use in the United States. Retrieved October 7th 2015. 

Syringe Exchange: An Effective Tool in the Fight Against HIV and Drug Abuse. (2009) In Gay Men's Health Crisis. Retrieved October 7th 2015.