This is one of those side effects that you don't quite realize until it becomes reality. The recent opiate epidemic is actually threatening three decades of progress that has been made insofar as reducing the number of HIV and AIDS cases in the United States. How is this possible? Well, because the rise in injectable drugs often results in the sharing of needles, unless the drugs are taken in a controlled environment where users are regularly provided with clean needles.
Even today, with all of the information that is out there about diseases like HIV and hepatitis that can be spread through the sharing of needles, a full one-third of people interviewed in 22 cities with the highest HIV levels admitted to having shared needles in the past year.
CDC director Thomas Frieden says that with the current opiate epidemic, we are risking stalling or even potentially reversing decades of progress that has been made insofar as attempts to get rid of HIV/AIDS once and for all.
HIV infections resulting from shared needles reached their peak in 1993, but ever since then the number of new cases has fallen by about 90 percent. However, fears abound that an outbreak of HIV is once again looming in light of the skyrocketing number of users who are shooting up opiates throughout the country. According to a report published by the CDC back in July of 2016, there are currently 220 counties that are especially vulnerable right now to an HIV or hepatitis C outbreak.
One way to combat this is to make needle exchanges more prevalent throughout the country, especially since one in every 10 newly reported HIV cases in the U.S. is the result of injecting drugs.
Interestingly, while some critics are against the idea of providing needles because they feel that it encourages illicit behavior, the report issued by the surgeon general actually proved the opposite. When needle exchanges were made available, users voluntarily went for treatment in an effort to reduce the spread of infectious disease. There is also no proven connection between needle exchanges and increased drug use nor criminality.
Here's some more food for thought. White drug injectors have been shown to be more likely to share their needles than black or Hispanic injectors. Further, in 2014, white drug injectors lead the numbers in new HIV diagnoses over every other racial group. The following year, over half of new drug injectors were white, compared to the 20 percent of new black injectors and 20 percent of new Hispanic injectors that same year.
As it stands right now, despite the amount of evidence that supports the idea of needle exchanges, few Americans actually have access to them. Congress has gone back and forth in instilling and then repealing a ban on federal funding for needle exchanges since the ban was first enacted back in 1998. As of December 2015, only 15 states in the U.S. have been given permission by Congress to request federal HIV funds for needle exchanges, and only under certain conditions.