In the May 7 article Hepatitis C infections soaring, fueled by prescription painkiller abuse by Liz Szabo of USA Today, Legal Action Center’s Director and President Paul Samuels is cited for his call to expand access to needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. Samuels also calls for more substance use prevention and treatment, more medications to treat opioid addiction, and other harm reduction activities to combat the opioid epidemic and its consequences.
According to Samuels:
“It is critically important that needle exchange programs like the temporary one in Indiana be replicated across the country, and be permanent,” Samuels said. “Studies have repeatedly proven that needle exchange programs reduce HIV, hepatitis and other infections among people who use intravenous drugs without increasing intravenous drug use, and indeed they are a bridge to treatment for some participants. Substance abuse prevention and treatment, including treatment with medications, and harm reduction — including needle exchange — are all necessary components of a comprehensive strategy for combatting the opioid epidemic and addressing the many ways it can harm people with addictions.”
As Szabo points out in the article, “Rates of hepatitis C are soaring, largely driven by an epidemic of prescription painkiller [misuse]”. According to the CDC report discussed in the article, 73% of hepatitis C patients in four states with high rates of infection (Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) said they used intravenous drugs. Because syringe exchange programs are proven to save lives by reducing HIV and hepatitis infections from contaminated needles and do not increase intravenous drug use, Legal Action Center fights to expand access to these important harm reduction services.