Safe Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs

Those who inject drugs, either into a vein, a muscle, or under the skin, have a higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne infections because of unsterile needles and syringes. To help reduce that risk, community-based needle exchange programs (NEPs) and syringe exchange programs (SEPs) exist. They provide drug users access to sterile needles and syringes at no cost and safely dispose of used needles and syringes—all without increasing illegal drug use or crime.

Many needle and syringe exchange programs also offer other disease prevention products, such as alcohol swabs, condoms, and vials of sterile water, as well as education on safer injection practices, wound care, and overdose prevention. Many also provide referrals to important services such as substance use treatment programs; testing and treatment for HIV and hepatitis C; hepatitis vaccinations; screening for other sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis; and other social, mental, and medical services.

By their very nature, needle and syringe exchange programs, also known as syringe access or syringe service programs, require a private and secluded location. This protects the privacy of people who use the program. As of 2018, 986 countries worldwide reported having needle and syringe exchange programs.

So where do you find a needle exchange program without revealing your drug addiction? Below are some needle exchange resources for several worldwide locations.

United States Syringe Exchange Programs (By State)

Empty syringe, side view
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This list of local harm reduction resources offered by the Harm Reduction Coalition provides locations of syringe exchange programs in the United States. The site also offers reports and publications, as well as an updated blog.

Canada Needle Exchange Programs

There isn't currently an online system detailing all the needle exchange programs by province. However, your local health authority should have a list of needle exchange programs and locations. This link to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority website, for example, allows you to search for your health authority and then for "needle exchange."

UK Needle Exchange Schemes

There are many needle exchange schemes in the United Kingdom, which include pharmacies and specialist services. The easiest way to find the location of your nearest needle exchange is to ask at your local pharmacy, which may actually have one, ask your doctor or look up your local Drug Action Team in the phone book or online.

You can also call the National Health Service (NHS) helpline, NHS Direct, for free, confidential information on local services and self-help resources by dialing 111.

Ireland Needle Exchange Schemes has a list of needle and syringe exchanges in Ireland. You can also contact your local pharmacy to see if they offer a needle exchange scheme.

Western Australia Needle and Syringe Exchange

The Needle and Syringe Exchange Program provides clean equipment and disposal services both on-site and via a mobile service.

New Zealand Needle Exchanges

The Needle Exchange Programme's website offers a complete listing of all the needle exchanges in New Zealand, as well as contact info for each.

South Australia Clean Needle Program

Download a list of Clean Needle Program providers in South Australia and learn more about the program at the Government of South Australia's website.

Safe Needle Disposal

If you can't find a needle exchange program, please dispose of your used needles responsibly. Don't put them in the trash. Give them to your local pharmacy, doctor's office, or hospital which may provide you with a sharps container.

If a disposal container is not available, many U.S. states recommend using a bottle with a screw-top cap that's carefully marked as containing needles. Please note that people often collect used bottles and cans to collect recycling fee refunds, so be sure to dispose of the bottle in a location unlikely to be accessed by the public and choose a bottle that cannot be pierced and does not have a recycling refund. Soda bottles are particularly risky because they are attractive to bottle collectors.

Reusing Needles

Reusing needles is hazardous, not only because of the risk of infection but also because needles get blunter with each use and can damage your veins. If you do reuse a needle, first clean it thoroughly with full-strength household bleach for at least 30 seconds and flush it out with boiled water to reduce the risk of infection. Never use a needle that has been used by someone else.

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