A shared syringe – and $80mill bill

With social media and education outreach, major outbreaks of Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) should be a thing of the past. Not so.

Alarm bells rang when 11 new HIV cases occurred in Nov-Jan in a small Indiana community – double that normally seen in a year .

This “handful of cases” from shared syringes among opioid drug users, had grown to 26 cases when reported in Feb by the Indiana State Department of Health, and by March had grown to 79 cases. By April the number had risen to 135 cases, 84% of whom were coinfected with HCV.

In a US CDC-Medscape Expert Commentary released this week, the number is now at 170 HIV cases, almost all HCV coinfected. The article states, “The lifelong medical care costs alone for treating the persons …will be more than $80 million“.

WHO in 2004 examined the alarming increase in BBP transmission among drug injectors and after a review of over 200 publications concluded that: the evidence for BBP reduction with needle and syringe exchange programs (NSEP) was overwhelming; NSEP need be country-wide; and any contrary legislation needs be repealed.

PS. Proudly, Australia and New Zealand were two of the first countries to use NSEPs nationally – and now via vending machines!

Interestingly, USA banned federal funding of NSEP in 1988, removed the ban in 2009, and reinstated the ban in 2011 (the legislation does not ban NSEPs; just federal funding of them). Opponents of federal support for NSEPs argue that it signals governmental acceptance of, and would facilitate the uptake of, illegal drug use. WHO says not so. Thankfully, in 2011, at least 221 non federal NSEPs operated in the US.

CDC recommends drug injectors be referred to “programs that provide access to sterile injection equipment.” A wise, evidence-based recommendation.

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