Needle exchanges ineffective in battle against HIV

Access to free hypodermic needles has not reduced the spread of HIV, according to new research from Skåne.

The majority of drug addicts do not make use of the opportunity to exchange needles, while those that do also continue to share needles with other users, Svenska Dagbladet reports.

Researcher Nils Stenström from Mittuniversitetet in Östersund has reported on the situation in Malmö and Lund 20 years after the introduction of the first needle exchanges.

During all this time, the issue has remained controversial. Opponents of needle exchange programmes argue that there have not been shown there to be any positive effects. Many also consider it morally questionable for the state to supply the tools for an illegal enterprise.

Supporters of the scheme counter that clean needles can save lives. Such programmes also provides an opportunity for healthcare workers to come into contact with a notoriously reticent group, allowing them to help those who wish to stop using narcotics.

Following the test period in Malmö and Lund, needle exchanges finally attained legal status last year. But a lack of convincing research has meant that no new exchanges have come into being.

Nils Stenström reached the conclusion that very few drug users go to the needle exchanges to get clean equipment. But he also noted a positive effect of the programme: patients who come to the needle exchange can be tested for HIV and receive a hepatitis vaccine.