School of Public Health
Health Policy, Management & Leadership
The Central Appalachian region of the United States is in the midst of a hepatitis C virus epidemic driven by injection of opioids, particularly heroin, with contaminated syringes. In response to this epidemic, several needle exchange programs (NEP) have opened to provide clean needles and other supplies and services to people who inject drugs (PWID). However, no studies have investigated the barriers and facilitators to implementing, operating, and expanding NEPs in less populous areas of the United States.
This qualitative case study consisted of interviews with program directors, police chiefs, law enforcement members, and PWID affiliated with two NEPs in the rural state of West Virginia. Interview transcripts were coded inductively and analyzed using qualitative data analysis software. Final common themes related to barriers and facilitators of past program openings, current program operations, and future program plans, were derived through a consensus of two data coders.
Both NEPs struggled to find existing model programs, but benefited from broad community support that facilitated implementation. The largest operational barrier was the legal conundrum created by paraphernalia laws that criminalize syringe possession. However, both PWID and law enforcement appreciated the comprehensive services provided by these programs. Program location and transportation difficulties were additional noted barriers. Future program operations are threatened by funding shortages and bans, but necessitated by unexpected program demand.
Despite broad community support, program operations are threatened by growing participant volumes, funding shortages, and the federal government’s prohibition on the use of funds to purchase needles. Paraphernalia laws create a legal conundrum in the form of criminal sanctions for the possession of needles, which may inadvertently promote needle sharing and disease transmission. Future studies should examine additional barriers to using clean needles provided by rural NEPs that may blunt the effectiveness of NEPs in preventing disease transmission.
Digital Commons Citation
Davis, Stephen M.; Davidov, Danielle; Kristjansson, Alfgeir L.; Zullig, Keith; Baus, Adam; and Fisher, Melanie, "Qualitative case study of needle exchange programs in the Central Appalachian region of the United States" (2018). Clinical and Translational Science Institute. 935.
Davis SM, Davidov D, Kristjansson AL, Zullig K, Baus A, Fisher M (2018) Qualitative case study of needle exchange programs in the Central Appalachian region of the United States. PLoS ONE 13(10): e0205466. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205466