needle-exchangeDespite the fact that needle exchange programs prevent the spread of infectious disease and ultimately save lives, there are many places throughout the country that do not allow for the safe exchange of hypodermic needles. In fact, they are currently only 33 states and Washington, D.C. which have active needle exchange programs, according to the North American Needle Exchange Network.

In response to a growing concern over spikes in disease transfer, the result of the prescription opioid and heroin crisis facing America, more states and cities are working on the implementation of needle exchange programs, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana authorized a short-term exchange program in one county, after declaring a state of emergency due to the rise in HIV cases directly tied to the abuse of the opioid drug Opana. There have been 72 confirmed new cases of HIV in the state.

“This is a public health emergency and I’m listening to my health department, I’m listening to the Centers for Disease Control and I’ll make my decision based on the best science and the best way we can stop this virus and stop this outbreak in its tracks,” said Pence

Last week, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed a bill, allowing local health departments to begin exchange programs, according to the article. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, legislators are considering a needle exchange pilot program.

Needle exchange programs not only protect against the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, they also provide a forum for people working in recovery to link with active users. In many cities where exchanges exist, they are perhaps the only places where addicts can connect with those involved with treatment programs. While many will exchange their dirty needles for clean ones and leave, the briefest of interactions with those in recovery may plant a seed that encourages users to seek help down the road.