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Can "Smart Needles" Stop Spread of Disease?

Author: Justin Mckibben

While treating a condition such as Hepatitis B can prolong the life of an individual, and that be a worthy cause, it is essential to prevent the spread of the infections. Today for the first time the World Health Organization (WHO) issued some advice on how to address the spread of Hepatitis B (Hep B). In this statement WHO made several recommendations, and one of the primary focuses of this was to point of the importance of using “smart” needles to prevent the spread of the infection.

According to one of the WHO spokeswomen who reported on this,

“Safety engineered syringes also called ‘smart syringes’ have a feature that prevent from reuse of the devices. There are different mechanisms.”

Some of the mechanisms in the “smart” syringes are actually very clever in terms of function and how they are used to treat individuals without the option to reuse. Some of the features include:

  • One mechanism is a metal clip which blocks the plunger after the injection is given which prevents one from being able to pull back the piston.
  • Presence of a weak point at the end of the plunger which breaks after the injection is given.
  • Other “smart” syringes have a needle stick protection feature, which consists of a plastic cover that can be pushed over the needle after it is used.

The WHO had previous touched on the importance of this kind of harm reduction, warning that the reuse of needles is one of the major causes of spreading disease, citing a recent study that indicated that according to the data collected:

  • 7 million people with Hep B virus were infected by dirty needles
  • 315,000 people with HIV were infected by dirty needles

The Money in this Modification

At the moment there are about 70 firms for deliver technology that are currently working to develop the so called “smart” needles according to the WHO organization. With that in mind its safe to safe that national healthcare programs should be taking every opportunity to utilize this innovation to further prevent exposure to contagious diseases.

One reason this has not yet become the way of the medicine world universally may be the price-tag on this technology. The “smart” needle costs between $0.03 and $0.04, almost double what the more standard needles typically sell for.

Given the fact that this technology could make a vast and drastic impact on the healthcare situation, especially given the rise in heroin abuse in America and the prominence of HIV and other contractible illnesses being spread through needle sharing, the WHO also suggested that smart needle manufacturers donate the newer technologies to healthcare programs with the idea that donations will increase the demand for these products, and the manufacturers will be able to cut down the cost of production, which will in turn lower the price for “smart” needles in the future.

The spokeswoman for the WHO was sure to emphasize how imperative it is that a genuine effort be made for preventing further Hep B infections. She even went as far as to predict that in preventing infections it generates savings. The WHO apparently determined through a cost effectiveness analysis that each dollar invested in safe injection programs creates a saving in the long run of $14.00.

Final Thoughts

In short, “safe” needles are one advancement in the field of medicine and treatment that can be taken advantage of in order to drastically limit the spread of infectious diseases.

As far as the effects on harm reduction, it seems like this would be the next step beyond needle exchange programs and other clean needle dispensaries, because it takes an extra measure to ensure that once the syringe has been used, someone using it to inject illicit substances cant reuse of share contaminated needles.

When it comes to harm reduction, how much better can it get than having access to a needle that self-destructs after each use? How much of an impact could this really have on the heroin epidemic?

New technology like “smart” needles can be a huge step in the right direction toward battling the epidemic of opiate addiction, and how we are able to address diseases like HIV and Hepatitis in the future. So many people fall victim to the disease like addiction, and worse is they don’t get the treatment they need, either because they don’t know that is available, or they never take the action to get help. If you of someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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