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Quotables: HIV an offshoot of opioid abuse

| Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
A used syringe lies along Nutt Avenue in Uniontown.  More of the devices used to inject heroin are turning up along roadsides and in parking lots.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
A used syringe lies along Nutt Avenue in Uniontown. More of the devices used to inject heroin are turning up along roadsides and in parking lots.

As if the region's opioid epidemic wasn't sufficiently tragic in lives lost to overdoses, now comes health authorities' warning of a potential HIV outbreak because of Pennsylvania's sparse needle-exchange programs — which are illegal in the state — and the limited availability of needles, which under state law are considered to be drug paraphernalia. The human immunodeficiency virus, spread by sharing needles or using dirty ones, can lead to AIDS. Health experts estimate that a Pennsylvania HIV outbreak, as witnessed in other states, could cost the commonwealth millions of dollars and are urging Gov. Tom Wolf to decriminalize syringe and needle exchanges. Their argument is compelling.

“We write now to strongly support the use of this declaration to immediately expand Syringe Service Programs … in Pennsylvania. Such programs are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes free of cost and facilitate safe disposal of used needles and syringes.”

Letter signed by public health representatives from the University of Pittsburgh, Drexel, Penn State, Temple, Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania

“In cities where we have needle exchanges, we've kept new HIV cases low.”

Alice Bell

Director of Prevention Point Pittsburgh

“My fear is that there's going to be this huge upswing in cases that are not diagnosed initially, as we all know (intravenous drug) users are a population that's very hard to reach, very hard to permeate and very hard to educate. They're not the ones coming in the door to get tested.”

Bridget Calhoun

Duquesne University professor specializing in infectious diseases

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