A deadly crisis is unfolding in Romania.
The country’s major harm reduction service provider for people who use drugs is closing its needle exchange and opiate substitution therapy programs. At the same time, the government’s support for these programs is minimal, uncoordinated, and poorly managed.
As a result, drug-related HIV transmission has seen a concerning spike.
According to a recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the number of new HIV infections among people who use drugs has climbed from a relatively low 3 to 5 new cases each year between 2007 and 2009, to 231 cases in 2012. The sharp increase in this figure is unacceptable, and these numbers will continue to climb unless the government takes action.
This spike points to a desperate need for increased funding for harm reduction services, like needle exchange and opiate substitution therapy, that have been proven to slow the spread of HIV, drug-related crime, violence, and needless death.
According to the Romanian Harm Reduction Network, needle and syringe programs cost just €500 per person per year, compared to €6,000 for HIV treatment, making these services both lifesaving and cost-effective. And a recent joint risk assessment by European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control cautions that the need for needle and syringe programs is sharply growing in Romania as funding is decreasing.
Needle and syringe programs had only recently been established in the capital, Bucharest, and now four of the six sites that had been working in the country are now closed.
The government’s lack of support for harm reduction services is a shortsighted calculation with deadly consequences.
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