Syringe Access

(Photo Credit: Alain McLaughlin)

Injection drug use is associated with a high risk of infection by blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, but sterile syringe access programs, sometimes referred to as syringe exchange programs, help lower these risks by limiting syringe sharing and providing safe disposal options. 

These programs also provide people who inject drugs with referrals to drug treatment, detoxification, social services, and primary health care.

Benefits of Syringe Access 

Syringe access programs have been proven to:

  • Increase the safe disposal of used syringes, protecting police officers and the public from accidental exposure to blood-borne diseases
  • Reduce syringe sharing among injection drug users
  • Decrease rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission

Research has also conclusively shown that syringe access programs do not increase drug use or crime. These programs are supported by every major medical and public health organization in the U.S. and the world, including the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization.

Barriers to Syringe Access 

Despite the documented benefits of syringe access programs and widespread endorsement, these programs remain woefully inaccessible. Legal barriers, such as paraphernalia laws, need to be addressed but ideology and politics often stand in the way of passing new legislation. For those states that have authorized syringe access programs, they are severely underfunded.

Approximately half the states in the country have either no syringe exchange program (14 states) or only have programs available in one or two cities in the entire state (12 states). The result has been devastating for people in rural communities where opioid use is on the rise. Indeed, since 2015, there are 210 confirmed cases of HIV from the sharing of drug injection equipment in a single county in Indiana totally only 2,500 residents and Kentucky has the highest rate of new hepatitis C cases. The emergency response of both states included permitting syringe access programs, but the crises could have been avoided altogether had the programs been implemented earlier.

Voices From the Front Lines: Joyce Rivera

The Drug Policy Alliance works to end the drug war by partnering with organizations like St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction (SACHR). Joyce Rivera founded SACHR in 1990 to provide support and resources for people who inject drugs and to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the South Bronx.

Today, they are a multi-service agency that serves thousands of people throughout New York City and provides a continuum of interventions that treats the whole person in a manner that is non-judgmental and culturally capable.

Our Work

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is working to ensure wider access to sterile syringes throughout the country. We support removing syringes from the criminal code by ending policies that criminalize syringe possession and limit sterile syringe distribution.

We played an instrumental role in the struggle to eliminate the federal ban on syringe access funding. We have led successful efforts to launch syringe exchange programs and facilities in several states, most recently in New Jersey.

DPA backs the non-prescription, over-the-counter sale of syringes, which is now permitted in all but two U.S. states. We support state efforts to exempt syringes from paraphernalia laws and broaden the legal definition of medical necessity as it relates to syringe access.

We also favor allowing doctors to prescribe syringes to their patients, a practice few states currently permit.

Syringe Access