D.C. needle exchange providers are breathing a collective sigh of relief after news broke yesterday that the impending temporary budget bill wouldn’t cut their funding after all.
But the possible loss of such funding spurred us to ask: how do needle exchanges work, anyway and who would be most affected if such a cut went through?
A few organizations in the District run needle exchange programs, including Helping Individual Prostitutes Service (HIPS), which works with commercial and informal sex workers in the District. Executive director Cyndee Clay says her group works with about 1,000 people a year, exchanged 8,000 syringes in March and about 65,000 in 2010.
Different providers handle needle exchange differently. For HIPS, clients register and then can exchange dirty needles for an equal number of sterile ones. In addition to the exchange, HIPS workers often take the opportunity to provide health counseling and other drug intervention services.
The majority of clients are African Americans and they are about evenly divided among women, men and transgender men and women, says Clay.
“These populations often never go through the door of a social agency, so those people would effectively be cut off from any services except for law enforcement” if needle exchanges ceased, Clay says.