Advocates of needle exchange claim such programs protect injection drug addicts from HIV infection – but new study refutes this.

But a new study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs finds that sex “accounts for nearly all the infection among” new injection drug users. Likewise, nearly half of HIV infections among long term injection drug users, (44.3 percent) are not attributed to sharing dirty needles. New injection drug users, in fact, had a similar rate of HIV infection as non-injection drug users.

Studies have found that substance abuse is a significant factor for high risk sexual behavior and HIV acquisition. Needle exchange, therefore, does not eliminate the risks for HIV infection for drug abusers, but rather enables addicts to abuse the drugs that impair their judgment, thereby increasing risk for HIV infection. The debate over needle exchange distracts from the real HIV prevention issues for drug abusers, which is preventing substance abuse and treating addiction.

Source: Health & Medicine Week March 1, 2004

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