Washington, D.C. has a higher AIDS diagnosis rate than any U.S. state, with about 2.4 percent of residents living with HIV/AIDS. Just over 14 percent of those cases are linked to injection drug use.
But until 2007, there was a federal ban on using D.C.’s municipal funds for needle exchange programs, an outreach technique that reduces disease spread and can channel vital health and addiction services to drug users. When Congress lifted the ban, public health scientists were eager to see if needle exchanges would stem the tide of new HIV cases in the district.
Thanks to a new study that followed the first two years of such needle exchange programs in D.C., the verdict is in: By funding the exchanges, lawmakers helped avert at least 120 new HIV cases in the District in the first 24 months, saving an estimated $44 million in lifetime costs for HIV/AIDS care.