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Needle Exchanges Have Contributed To Decreasing HIV Rate, Say D.C. Officials

This week D.C. officials are celebrating a continuing decline in the number of new HIV cases in the city. But it isn't just the lower numbers that they are cheering, but also how they got there.

According to the D.C. Department of Health, the number of HIV cases linked to intravenous drug use dropped by 80 percent from 2007 to 2011, with the number of cases decreasing from 149 to 30.

“I think that argues for the efficacy and prudence of the needle-exchange program we had such trouble putting in place," said Mayor Vincent Gray at a press conference yesterday announcing that new cases of HIV had fallen dramatically over the same time period.

Gray not only celebrated the low numbers, but also the fact that it’s only been recently that D.C. has been able to pay for dirty needles to be taken off the streets.

For years Congress prohibited D.C. from spending money on needle-exchange programs under the premise that they encouraged drug use. That restriction was lifted in 2007, though, allowing the Department of Health to contract with three groups to swap out dirty needles for clean ones.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of needles have been exchanged—in 2011, it was 340,000, and in 2012 it rose to 550,000.

According to city officials, those clean needles have been part of the reason that D.C.’s rate of new HIV cases was cut in half from 2007 to 2011. The rate of residents with HIV dropped from 2.7 percent in 2010 to 2.4 percent a year later.

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