Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) Fact Sheet

  • The opioid crisis is fueling a dramatic increase in infectious diseases associated with injection drug use.
  • Reports of acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) cases rose 3.5-fold from 2010 to 2016.1
  • The majority of new HCV infections are due to injection drug use.
  • Over 2,500 new HIV infections occur each year among people who inject drugs (PWID).2
  • Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) reduce HIV and HCV infections and are an effective component of comprehensive community-based prevention and intervention programs that provide additional services. These include vaccination, testing, linkage to infectious disease care and substance use treatment, and access to and disposal of syringes and injection equipment.
Syringe Services Programs (SSPs ) Fact Sheet pdfpdf icon[PDF - 915 KB]

Printable PDF of SSP Fact Sheet

Helps prevent transmission of blood-borne infections

For people who inject drugs, the best way to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting disease through injection drug use is to stop injecting drugs. For people who do not stop injecting drugs, using sterile injection equipment for each injection can reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting infections and prevent outbreaks.

SSPs are associated with an estimated 50% reduction in HIV and HCV incidence.3 When combined with medications that treat opioid dependence (also known as medication-assisted treatment), HCV and HIV transmission is reduced by over two-thirds.3,4

SSPs serve as a bridge to other health services, including HCV and HIV testing and treatment and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.5

Helps stop substance use

The majority of SSPs offer referrals to medication-assisted treatment,6 and new users of SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.

SSPs prevent overdose deaths by teaching people who inject drugs how to prevent overdose and how to recognize, respond to, and reverse a drug overdose by providing training on how to use naloxone, a medication used to reverse overdose. Many SSPs provide “overdose prevention kits” containing naloxone to people who inject drugs.7-12

Helps support public safety

SSPs have partnered with law enforcement, providing naloxone to local police departments to help them respond and prevent death when someone has overdosed.13

SSPs also protect first responders and the public by providing safe needle disposal and reducing the presence of discarded needles in the community.14-19

In 2015, CDC’s National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System found that the more syringes SSPs distributed per the number of people who inject drugs in a geographic region, the more likely the people who inject drugs in that region were to dispose of used syringes safely.20

Studies in Baltimore21 and New York City22 have also found no difference in crime rates between areas with and areas without SSPs.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis — United States, 2016 pdf icon[PDF – 1.5 MB, 75 pages].
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated HIV incidence and prevalence in the United States, 2010–2015. HIV Surveillance Supplemental Report. 2018;23(No. 1) pdf icon[PDF – 2 MB, 77 pages]. Published March 2018.
  3. Platt L, Minozzi S, Reed J, et al. Needle syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy for preventing hepatitis C transmission in people who inject drugs. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;9:CD012021. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012021.pub2.
  4. Fernandes RM, Cary M, Duarte G, et al. Effectiveness of needle and syringe programmes in people who inject drugs – An overview of systematic reviews. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):309. doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4210-2.
  5. HIV and Injection Drug Use – Vital Signs – CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published December 2016.
  6. Des Jarlais DC, Nugent A, Solberg A, Feelemyer J, Mermin J, Holtzman D. Syringe service programs for persons who inject drugs in urban, suburban, and rural areas — United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(48):1337-1341. doi:10.15585/ mmwr.mm6448a3.
  7. Seal KH, Thawley R, Gee L. Naloxone distribution and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training for injection drug users to prevent heroin overdose death: A pilot intervention study. J Urban Health. 2005;82(2):303–311. doi:10.1093/jurban/jti053.
  8. Galea S, Worthington N, Piper TM, Nandi VV, Curtis M, Rosenthal DM. Provision of naloxone to injection drug users as an overdose prevention strategy: Early evidence from a pilot study in New York City. Addict Behav. 2006;31(5):907-912. doi:10.1016/j. addbeh.2005.07.020.
  9. Tobin KE, Sherman SG, Beilenson P, Welsh C, Latkin CA. Evaluation of the Staying Alive programme: Training injection drug users to properly administer naloxone and save lives. Int J Drug Policy. 2009;20(2):131-136. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2008.03.002.
  10. Doe-Simkins M, Walley AY, Epstein A, Moyer P. Saved by the nose: Bystander-administered intranasal naloxone hydrochloride for opioid overdose. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(5):788-791. doi:10.2105/ajph.2008.146647.
  11. Bennett AS, Bell A, Tomedi L, Hulsey EG, Kral AH. Characteristics of an overdose prevention, response, and naloxone distribution program in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. J Urban Health. 2011;88(6):1020-1030. doi:10.1007/s11524-011-9600-7.
  12. Leece PN, Hopkins S, Marshall C, Orkin A, Gassanov MA, Shahin RM. Development and implementation of an opioid overdose prevention and response program in Toronto, Ontario. Can J Public Health. 2013;104(3):e200-204.
  13. Childs R. Law enforcement and naloxone utilization in the United States. FDA website pdf icon[PDF – 1 MB, 24 pages]external icon.
  14. Tookes HE, Kral AH, Wenger LD, et al. A comparison of syringe disposal practices among injection drug users in a city with versus a city without needle and syringe programs. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;123(1-3):255-259. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.12.001.
  15. Riley ED, Kral AH, Stopka TJ, Garfein RS, Reuckhaus P, Bluthenthal RN. Access to sterile syringes through San Francisco pharmacies and the association with HIV risk behavior among injection drug users. J Urban Health. 2010;87(4):534-542. doi:10.1007/s11524- 010-9468-y.
  16. Klein SJ, Candelas AR, Cooper JG, et al. Increasing safe syringe collection sites in New York State. Public Health Rep. 2008;123(4):433-440. doi:10.1177/003335490812300404.
  17. de Montigny L, Vernez Moudon A, Leigh B, Kim SY. Assessing a drop box programme: a spatial analysis of discarded needles. Int J Drug Policy. 2010; 21(3):208-214. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2009.07.003.
  18. Doherty MC, Junge B, Rathouz P, Garfein RS, Riley E, Vlahov D. The effect of a needle exchange program on numbers of discarded needles: a 2-year follow-up. Am J Public Health. 2000;90(6):936- 939.
  19. Bluthenthal RN, Anderson R, Flynn NM, Kral AH. Higher syringe coverage is associated with lower odds of HIV risk and does not increase unsafe syringe disposal among syringe exchange program clients. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2007;89(2-3):214-222.
  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Infection, Risk, Prevention, and Testing Behaviors among Persons Who Inject Drugs—National HIV Behavioral Surveillance: Injection Drug Use, 20 U.S. Cities, 2015. HIV Surveillance Special Report 18. Revised edition pdf icon[PDF – 2 MB, 38 pages]. Published May 2018. Accessed July 30, 2018.
  21. Marx MA, Crape B, Brookmeyer RS, et al. Trends in crime and the introduction of a needle exchange program. Am J Public Health. 2000;90(12),1933–1936.
  22. Galea S, Ahern J, Fuller C, Freudenberg N, Vlahov D. Needle exchange programs and experience of violence in an inner city neighborhood. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2001;28(3),282-288.
Page last reviewed: May 23, 2019