Implementation of Syringe Services Programs to Prevent Rapid Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission in Rural Counties in the United States: A Modeling Study

Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Mar 3;70(6):1096-1102. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciz321.


Background: Syringe services programs (SSPs) are effective venues for delivering harm-reduction services to people who inject drugs (PWID). However, SSPs often face significant barriers to implementation, particularly in the absence of known human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) outbreaks.

Methods: Using an agent-based model, we simulated HIV transmission in Scott County, Indiana, a rural county with a 1.7% prevalence of injection drug use. We compared outcomes arising in the absence of an SSP, in the presence of a pre-existing SSP, and with implementation of an SSP after the detection of an HIV outbreak among PWID over 5 years following the introduction of a single infection into the network.

Results: In the absence of an SSP, the model predicted an average of 176 infections among PWID over 5 years or an incidence rate of 12.1/100 person-years. Proactive implementation averted 154 infections and decreased incidence by 90.3%. With reactive implementation beginning operations 10 months after the first infection, an SSP would prevent 107 infections and decrease incidence by 60.8%. Reductions in incidence were also observed among people who did not inject drugs.

Conclusions: Based on model predictions, proactive implementation of an SSP in Scott County had the potential to avert more HIV infections than reactive implementation after the detection of an outbreak. The predicted impact of reactive SSP implementation was highly dependent on timely implementation after detecting the earliest infections. Consequently, there is a need for expanded proactive SSP implementation in the context of enhanced monitoring of outbreak vulnerability in Scott County and similar rural contexts.

Keywords: HIV; agent-based modeling; injection drug use; rural health; syringe services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • HIV
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous* / complications
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous* / epidemiology
  • Syringes
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations