Needle and syringe exchange schemes provide injecting drug users with access to sterile needles, syringes and other equipment, and provide a means for drug users to safely dispose of used needles and syringes. This is important in helping to reduce the spread of blood borne infections such as HIV, hep B and hep C. Many pharmacies, drug services and some hostels provide this service. In fact, wherever you see the sign below, there is a needle exchange operating.
Often, at a needle exchange you can also get advice on how to inject more safely and what to do in the event of an overdose. A free Naloxone kit on reversing opiate overdoses, i.e. overdoses from drugs like heroin, morphine and methadone is often available along with training in how to use it.
Needle exchanges may also provide testing for viruses such as HIV, hep B and hep C. and offer vaccinations against hep B.
The rationale behind needle exchange services
According to research by the Center for Disease Prevention in the USA, needle exchange services are associated with an estimated 50% reduction in HIV and HCV (hepatitis C virus) incidence. When combined with medications that treat opioid dependence HCV and HIV transmission is reduced by over two-thirds.
As already mentioned, these schemes often offer a link to other health services and advice. Plus they also support public safety by ensuring used needles are disposed of safely and not left discarded in the community.
In September 2021, the charity Humankind, developed a set of Minimum Standards for Needle Exchanges and Harm Reduction Services. These standards aim to improve coverage, reduce the risk of needle finds, and ensure consistent high-quality delivery of needle exchange programmes. NICE has also published public health guidelines for needle exchange programmes.
Updated October 2021