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Preventing the Spread of Infectious Diseases Caused by Substance Use

Dr. Sean Allen, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, describes strategies for preventing the spread of infectious diseases due to substance use

Syringe services programs are one of our most effective tools to prevent the consequences of injection drug use.  They are vitally important to ensuring the health of Americans.

Preventing substance use is critical to ending the ongoing opioid epidemic that is tearing families apart across the country.  It is vital that we work to prevent some of the worst consequences of this epidemic, including infectious disease outbreaks.

Injection drug use is a risk factor for outbreaks of viral hepatitis and HIV infection, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in recent years.  In Scott County, Indiana, we saw an outbreak of HIV and the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) among people who inject drugs.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2013, 30,500 people became infected with Hepatitis.  That’s an average of 84 people each day. Research has identified 220 counties in 26 states that are at risk for infectious disease outbreaks similar to Scott County.  This is more than a public health crisis – it’s a call to action for state and local officials to implement evidence-based strategies to address it.  First and foremost, this includes syringe services programs.

HIV and HCV infections are preventable.  Syringe services programs are one of our most important and effective tools to prevent the consequences of the prescription opioid epidemic and injection drug use.  They are effective public health interventions that are proven to help decrease blood-borne disease among people who inject drugs.  Implementing these programs can improve access to a number of medical services and serve as an effective conduit to link persons to drug treatment programs.  Small investments in syringe services programs can yield substantial cost-savings; for example, one project in Washington, DC, showed that investing in syringe access resulted in $44.3 million in cost savings from averted HIV infections in two years.  Further, research has demonstrated that syringe services programs do not increase drug use, crime, or the presence of discarded syringes. Jurisdictions across the United States are working to implement syringe services programs, but more work needs to be done.

The Obama Administration is committed to reducing the consequences of the opioid epidemic and injection drug use-related disease outbreaks.  Through the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, we are working with 23 Federal partners in the fight against viral hepatitis across the United States. We also encourage more states, counties, cities, organizations, and individuals to implement and expand syringe services programs.

In 2015, the President and Congress worked together to revise a longstanding ban on the use of Federal funds to support syringe services programs.  This policy change represents a major step forward; however, jurisdictions must act locally to enable syringe services program operations. Policymakers can enact changes that not only protect the health of their constituents, but also save them money.

Implementing syringe services programs will take everyone working together and doing their part, from the Federal Government to the local city council, from public health officials to law enforcement officers, and from community prevention coalitions to individuals.  By working together, we can prevent substance use, avert the outbreak of infectious diseases linked to injection drug use, and move our country from crisis to recovery.

New blog from @ONDCP Syringe services programs are effective tools to prevent #HepC spread by injection drug use: http://go.usa.gov/x8dCT

Posted In: 
Prevention and Wellness
Public Health and Safety
Tagged: Hepatitis C