By American Association for the Advancement of Science

(NEW YORK - December 10, 2015) Access to harm reduction programs such as syringe exchange is lowest in rural and suburban areas, where rates of addiction to heroin and other opioids are on the rise, according to a study led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published online today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in drug injection in the United States, primarily the injection of prescription opioids and heroin among persons who started opioid use with oral analgesics before transitioning to injecting. Syringe service programs (SSPs) allow people who inject drugs to exchange used needles and syringes for new, sterile needles and syringes. These programs reduce the chances that people who inject drugs will share injection equipment and thereby contract infections like HIV and hepatitis C. Many SSPs also distribute a medication called naloxone, which is proven to reverse opiate overdoses.

Researchers assessed the landscape and availability of syringe service programs across the United States, finding that 69 percent of SSPs surveyed were located in urban areas, leaving only 20 percent in rural areas and 9 percent in suburban locations. The findings indicate that harm reduction services are lacking for people in communities where they are often needed most. A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health reports that half of all IV drug users live outside of major urban areas. The range of services offered at SSPs also varied by region. For example, only 37 percent of programs surveyed in rural areas offered naloxone, compared to 61 percent of urban programs that provided this service.

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