Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Needle Exchange Programs: Effective, but at What Cost?

Albany, New York has recently begun a needle exchange program for drug addicts with the hope that the spread of illnesses, such as AIDS or HIV, would lessen. This would cost taxpayers over $150,000 annually; however, it is argued, that without so many people getting sick, it could save money in the end.

At first, I was against this; supplying addicts with the equipment to do illegal drugs sounded nuts. But, being the good little reporter that I try to be, I researched this deeper and was surprised by what I found.

Looking at reports from regions that have already tried similar programs, it became clear that the benefits of such programs were surprising. Studies from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands, along with raw data from Wales and Uzbekistan clearly show that not only will addicts use such programs, but it helps to reduce HIV a sizable amount. Furthermore, with the spread of education, it is possible for people to be convinced to stop doing drugs.

However, there is a major caveat in the data that sticks out. In the data from the US, UK, Canada, Wales, and the Netherlands, the amount of money saved by having these programs is not clearly stated. The only hard data was from (who would have guessed) Uzbek statistics. They place the minimum cost per infection averted at $1,288 and as high as $9,537. That's per person who did not get a disease because of the program.

So, which saves the taxpayers more money? The data does not say, but nearly $10,000 per illness-stopped could outweigh the many of the benefits.

In the end, it is very surprising to see how effective these programs were in preventing HIV and spreading education. However, the cost could be incredibly high. But after looking at this data, I am no longer very against this program... I need to study it further to come to a final conclusion.

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