As Arkansas and other states battle an ongoing opioid crisis, concerns about infectious diseases resulting from injection drug use warrant increased attention from policymakers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 775,000 Americans reported injecting a drug in the past year. Injection drug use has increased the number of viral hepatitis infections, stymied human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention efforts, and led to increased overdose deaths. One strategy for reducing infectious diseases and overdose rates among persons who inject drugs is adopting syringe service programs (SSPs), also referred to as needle exchange programs.
SSPs are community-based prevention programs that provide a number of services to persons who inject drugs. Typical services include:
- access to new, sterile needles and syringes
- safe disposal site for used products
- referral to care and treatment
There is evidence demonstrating that SSPs can help people stop using drugs and reduce the spread of infections without increasing criminal activity. As the CDC notes, studies have established that individuals who are new users of SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs than those who do not use SSPs. Evidence has also shown that SSPs do not increase illegal drug use, are cost-effective, and reduce drug use and overdoses. Additionally, SSPs can increase public safety by reducing needle-stick injuries for first responders and reduce the overall presence of needles within a community.
SSPs are but one component of a comprehensive prevention program. The decision to establish an SSP is made at the state or local level. A CDC review shows that 19 states have laws authorizing statewide needle exchange programs and three states have laws authorizing programs in limited areas under certain circumstances. Some local jurisdictions within states have implemented policies authorizing SSPs. Currently, there are no laws in Arkansas authorizing needle exchanges.