Las Vegas now has a new tool to fight HIV and hepatitis C: vending machines that dispense clean needles.
Local health officials announced this month they have started a needle exchange program in an effort to prevent an outbreak of blood borne diseases, a potential occurrence among intravenous drug users. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, approximately 9 percent of HIV cases are found in people who use drugs intravenously, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. To combat a rise in HIV infections and other diseases, the Southern Nevada Health District and Trac-B Exchange, in collaboration with the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society (NARES), launched the initiative earlier this month.
“It starts with providing a clean needle and syringe to one person," Dr. Joe Iser, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, said in a statement last Wednesday. "However, we know one in 10 HIV diagnoses occur in people who inject drugs. Providing clean needles and supplies is a proven method for limiting disease transmission in a community."
Officials have been concerned about the risk of a disease outbreak as heroin use has spiked in the U.S. in recent years, according to to the Southern Nevada Health District.
During the pilot program, people will have to register with the Trac-B Exchange Harm Reduction Center before accessing the vending machines. Individuals will be allotted two boxes with sterile needles and syringes to reduce the risk of infection. The center, where the vending machines are located, also conducts HIV and hepatitis C testing.
"In addition to providing supplies to individual clients, the goal of our program is to improve the health and well-being of people affected by drug use by increasing their access to health care, providing them with education, and reducing the risk of harm to others in our community,” said Iser.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that annual HIV diagnoses among black and Hispanic or Latino intravenous drug users dropped by approximately 50 percent between 2008 to 2014 and that the drop was likely due to increased access to sterile syringes.