DPH Seeks Money for More Mass. Needle Exchanges

The state currently has 14 needle exchange sites.

Heroin needles. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Photo via AP/Mel Evans

As Massachusetts continues to weather the opioid epidemic, the Department of Public Health (DPH) has requested federal funding to open more needle exchange sites, State House News reports.

At these sites, drug users may swap used needles for clean ones, at little or no cost. The idea is to cut down on the spread of diseases associated with shared needles, such as HIV and hepatitis C.

Massachusetts currently has 14 needle exchanges. DPH’s proposal, submitted following the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, would increase that number—though given the discretionary nature of 21st Century Cures money, and the new administration’s willingness to roll back substance abuse coverage, approval isn’t guaranteed. (Vice President Mike Pence, however, instituted a successful needle exchange program in Indiana, where he was governor, to slow the spread of HIV.)

Needle exchanges are also controversial. Opponents say they enable users, and encourage drug use. Supporters counter that, in addition to curtailing disease, they give health professionals a chance to offer addicts treatment and educate them about substance abuse, how to counteract an overdose, and more.

“These are really about engagement and bringing people into treatment, people who might not otherwise seek services or come in for treatment for their addiction or health,” DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel said during a hearing.