Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis are bloodborne viruses that can be transmitted sexually or through intravenous drug use. People who have unprotected sex or inject drugs are often at higher risk for contracting these diseases through sharing and reusing needles, syringes, and other drug paraphernalia.

Numerous harm-reduction services are available in communities across the United States to supply prevention materials and education. Read on to learn more about HIV and hepatitis prevention and available services for your protection.

What is HIV Prevention?

People who use drugs, particularly people who inject them, are at higher risk of developing HIV. Sharing needles is the second riskiest way of contracting HIV. Substance use also alters judgment, increasing the likelihood of risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex and having multiple sex partners.

If you or someone you love uses substances, there are precautions that can be taken to prevent HIV. Seeking professional addiction treatment can greatly reduce risks. If addiction treatment isn’t currently feasible, using a clean needle or syringe every time substances are injected can drastically lower the chances of contracting HIV.

Public health programs nationwide have developed various initiatives to increase HIV awareness and prevention, including syringe services programs. Many local organizations and healthcare clinics also provide HIV prevention education, safer sex kits, and medications that can lower the chances of contracting HIV before and after exposure.

What is Hepatitis Prevention?

Similar to HIV, people can contract hepatitis B and C by injecting drugs and sharing other drug paraphernalia. Quitting substances is, again, one of the most effective ways to reduce the likelihood of contracting hepatitis.

However, if the person experiencing addiction is unable or not ready to stop, then safer use practices must be maintained. This includes the consistent use of new, sterile needles and equipment and the preparation of substances on a clean surface.

Furthermore, the skin should be thoroughly cleaned with soap or alcohol before injecting. Also, safer sex practices, including the consistent use of condoms, should be maintained. Another vital step is to get vaccinated against hepatitis B and get regularly tested for hepatitis B and C. You can learn more about hepatitis prevention, safer drug use, and access to harm-reduction supplies by visiting a community health center or local harm-reduction program.

5 Common Methods for HIV and Hepatitis Prevention

Safer Sex Kits

Safer sex kits often include materials and information for sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention. Community health centers and harm-reduction programs provide free male and female condoms, dental dams, lubricant, and information on sexually transmitted infection (STI) facts. Many organizations also offer free STI testing or connect people to free STI testing sites and other community resources.

Safer Smoking Kits

Safer smoking kits are harm-reduction products for people who smoke substances like crack cocaine and methamphetamine. Sharing smoking materials can put people at risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C through cuts and burns that may form on the lips from smoking.

These kits may contain pipes, plastic mouthpieces, pipe screens, lip ointment, alcohol swabs, and other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of viruses like HIV and hepatitis. Harm-reduction facilities may also provide safer use information and referrals to other services.

Needle Exchange Programs

Needle exchange programs deliver free sterile needles for people who inject drugs. They also collect used syringes to reduce the likelihood of HIV and hepatitis transmission. Many states have syringe exchange program locators where you can find access to multiple services.

Many programs also offer safer injection and overdose prevention education, hepatitis vaccinations, STI screening, wound care, Narcan education and distribution, and treatment for HIV and hepatitis. They may refer you to addiction treatment, social, mental health, and other medical services. Research shows people who use needle exchange programs are more likely to enter substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and stop injecting drugs than those who don’t.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can prevent HIV in people at high risk. PrEP can prevent HIV from spreading throughout the body, thereby decreasing the likelihood of transmission or infection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently approves oral and injectable forms of PrEP.

This medication reduces the risk of contracting HIV from sex by 99% when used as prescribed. For people who inject drugs, PrEP is at least 74% effective. PrEP is only effective in those who are HIV-negative, so you’ll have to get an HIV test before starting. Since PrEP is only available through prescription, you can visit your health care provider or doctor to start prevention. If you don’t have a provider, many community health centers, HIV healthcare providers. and PrEP assistance programs can prescribe PrEP, often at an affordable cost.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a short course of medications that people take after possible exposure to HIV. You must start PEP within 72 hours of potential exposure for it to be effective. Doctors reserve PEP administration for emergencies only, and you shouldn’t use it if you are regularly exposed to HIV. If you believe you were exposed to HIV, contact your provider, urgent care, or emergency room to start PEP immediately.



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