Needle Exchange – Find a Program

3 min read · 5 sections

Evidence suggests that these programs do not encourage drug use or lead to more crime or used needles on the street.

Sites such as the North American Syringe Exchange Network feature directories where users can search for programs in their area.

Heroin. Meth. Cocaine. Injecting these into your system comes with any number of immediate health risks. But the added danger in contracting a viral or bacterial infection makes the use of consuming drugs this way even more perilous. At American Addiction Centers, we offer 24-hour medical detox, treatment, and ongoing care. If you’re battling a substance use disorder (SUD), please reach out to one of our admissions navigators at

What Is a Needle Exchange Program?

Needle exchange programs—which are also known as syringe services programs or needle-syringe programs—provide new and sterile syringes to drug users.

Some programs also offer medical treatment for infectious diseases, substance use disorder treatment referrals, naloxone treatment, and enrollment in health care plans.2

People who inject drugs face a greater risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C. In fact, research shows that 1 in 23 women and 1 in 36 men who use drugs intravenously will contract HIV at some point during their lifetimes.2

Needle exchange programs can also help get users into treatment and help prevent overdoses through education and teaching users how to respond to an overdose.

Needle Exchange Services

Regardless of the services offered, all needle exchange programs are free.1 Some programs operate out of mobile units, while others are fixed sites located in community clinics. Some combine both a fixed site with a mobile outreach unit.5

In general, the programs vary in the number of needles provided and the types of services. For example, some programs use the “one-for-one” approach. This refers to trading in one used needle in exchange for a new one.5 This is a simple approach that enforces a sense of accountability, as the drug user must collect and bring back used needles.

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Other programs simply provide as many needles as the user needs between visits to the program. This specific number can vary depending on the person. But the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (UNAIDS) recommends providing 200 sterile needs per person each year.5

Do Needle Exchange Programs Work?

Yes, needle exchange programs do work—both in terms of harm reduction and promoting abstinence.

In fact, research shows that people who inject drugs are 5 times more likely to enter a treatment program after visiting a needle exchange. Further, they are more likely to reduce or abstain from injecting when using a program.4

Additionally, these programs can prevent new HIV and viral hepatitis infections. With 1 in 3 young adult (aged 18-30) intravenous drug users having hepatitis C, stopping this epidemic is incredibly important.4 A study found that once Washington, D.C. lifted a ban on needle exchange programs, 120 HIV cases related to IV drug use were prevented, saving $45.6 million in treatment costs.2

Overdose also remains an inherent risk for intravenous drug users. In recent years, there have been drastic and devastating spikes in death rates associated with drug use. Needle exchange programs reduce overdose death rates by teaching drug users how to prevent and respond appropriately to drug overdose via naloxone treatment.4

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved naloxone administration for opioid overdoses. In its various forms, this medication can be injected or administered nasally and works by blocking opioid receptor sites and reversing the lethal effects associated with overdose.6 Because time is of the essence when a drug user is overdosing, it is vital that both professionals and loved ones understand how to use this medication to save someone’s life.

Though some may believe that needle exchange programs essentially enable and promote more needles on the street, the opposite effect has been shown to happen. If people must turn in needles for new ones, there is a greater incentive to find discarded or used ones. Many programs track the number of needles returned. In many cases, they come close to or even exceed the number of needles distributed.2

How Can I Safely Dispose of Drug Needles?

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, there are about 300 needle exchange programs throughout the United States. However, these programs do not exist in every state. Some states have many programs (Kentucky has 23), while some have very few (Hawaii has 1).7

The North American Syringe Exchange Network (NASEN) provides a directory of needle exchange programs where users can enter a zip code, city, or state to find their nearest site.8

You can also visit your state’s or county’s public health or health department website for further information.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Syringe Services Programs.
  2. Harm Reduction Coalition. (2018). Rural Syringe Services Program: FAQs.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Program Guidance for Implementing Certain Components of Syringe Services Programs.
  4. Center for Disease and Control Prevention. (2017). Reducing Harms from Injection Drug Use & Opioid Use Disorder with Syringe Services Programs.
  5. CDC. Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) Fact Sheet
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016)
  7. Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. (2017). Sterile Syringe Exchange Program.
  8. North American Syringe Exchange Network. Directory of Syringe Exchange Programs.
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