CDC letter says cutting city funding to Philadelphia SSPs could result in an HIV outbreak

After Philadelphia's mayor proposed cutting funding for the city’s syringe services programs (SSPs), the CDC sent a letter to the director of the Penn Center for AIDS Research warning that cutting funding to SSPs could result in an HIV outbreak. In response to a social media post sharing a news article about this letter, some social media users used stigmatizing language to refer to people who use drugs (“i'd like to live in a society where my tax dollars don't go to providing clean needles to junkies”) and advocated against SSPs (“We cannot get rid of the problem by supporting/encouraging addicts to use ‘comfortably’ it's just not safe & these consequences should be promoted as a deterrent”). Others implored Philadelphia’s mayor to “listen to the CDC” and acknowledged that SSPs have been shown to reduce rates of infectious diseases.

Recommendation: Many online conversations about the CDC’s letter use stigmatizing language to refer to people who use drugs and promote the persistent false narrative that SSPs encourage drug use. These trending conversations provide an opportunity to share the documented benefits of SSPs, which reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis C by approximately 50 percent in the communities they serve. Messaging may emphasize that decades of research has shown that SSPs do not increase drug use or crime and that people who use SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who do not use SSPs. These conversations also provide an opportunity for community-based organizations and other partners in Philadelphia to share information about local HIV testing sites with target populations and to reiterate the importance of knowing your status.