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Needle exchange could slow spread of disease in Iowa

Needle exchange programs

A bill in the Iowa Legislature could legalize needle exchange programs in the state.

Public health advocates are hopeful that syringe exchange programs would significantly reduce the spread of Hepatitis-C and HIV among users of injection drugs like heroin methamphetamine and opioids.

"Last year in Iowa, 2,300 people contracted the Hepatitis-C virus, about 60% of those individuals contracted the virus through injection drug use," says Sarah Ziegenhorn, Executive director of the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition.

A syringe exchange allows addicts to receive clean needles from authorized providers instead of sharing or reusing dirty ones.

"It also has benefits to law enforcement officers,” says Dr. Daniel Runde, Assistant Program Director of Emergency Medicine at the University of Iowa. “It dramatically decreases the chances that they're going to be stuck by a needle in the course of performing their duties."

Similar exchange programs already operate in 31 states and they link users to treatment options at 5 times the normal rate.

"We're not trying something new we're trying something that has been used in states red and blue across the country," explains Runde.

Authorizing an exchange would make the state eligible for federal funding and advocates say the cost of not doing it is astronomical.

"The cost of treating those individuals for Hepatitis-c alone that puts us to about $165 million," says Ziegenhorn.

She explains that about 80% of those people pay for treatment through the Iowa Medicaid system.

The Center for Disease Control currently lists Iowa as at risk for a Hepatitis or HIV outbreak due to injection drug use.

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