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Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach
from a van, typically 6 hours a day, 4 days a week, and traveled to specific sites known to involve high levels of drug activity.
The needle exchange program operated on an anonymous basis. Specifically, participants were assigned a fictitious name as a means of identification and tracking. New enrollees who did not have a needle and syringe to exchange at their first encounter with the needle exchange program were provided with a single ''rig." After that, exchanges were conducted on a one-for-one basis, with a maximum of five needles and syringes issued on each occasion. Syringes that were distributed were coded to enable tracking and evaluation. The program accepted syringes that had not originated from the program. All returned equipment was placed in a metal canister, and all returned equipment was turned over to an evaluation team at Yale University for assessment. In particular, a sample of returned syringes were assessed for the prevalence of HIV.
In addition to exchanging used sterile equipment, program staff provided AIDS education and information on risk reduction. Condoms and bleach packets were provided to all participants at each encounter. All participants were also provided information on drug treatment and a broad range of other relevant services (e.g., tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease screening through clinics, HIV testing, maternal and child health services); outreach workers also provided participants with direct assistance in accessing drug treatment and other services.
In July 1992, syringe possession without a prescription was decriminalized. This was followed by a reduction in the monthly volume of exchanges at the program (from about 4,000 to a little more than half that number).
The importance of the evidence from the New Haven studies is twofold. They provide: (1) direct evidence of lower levels of HIV infection among needles in use and (2) indirect, model-based estimates of changes in the incidence of new HIV infections among needle exchange program participants.
The direct evidence involves the impact of the needle exchange program on the critical features of program process. Specifically, the evaluation reveals significant and substantial reductions in the infectivity of the syringes exchanged through the needle exchange program. The data also reveal increases in referral to drug treatment and no change in the number of injection drug users.
Prior to the distribution of sterile injection equipment, extremely sensitive DNA analyses using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect the presence of HIV-infected peripheral blood cells in the returned syringes of existing "street" syringes showed an HIV-positive rate of 0.675; needles from shooting galleries revealed a rate of 0.917; and needles from an underground exchange showed a rate of 0.628. During the first month of the