When drug addicts take a step deeper in their addiction, they may begin to shoot up their drugs of choice intravenously. IV drug users are at a very high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS or other transmittable diseases, especially if they are sharing and reusing needles. In the late 1980’s, needle exchange programs started to pop up around the country in order to combat the HIV epidemic among drug users by providing clean needles and a number of other services. These programs continue to exist today, and are volunteer-run organizations that seek to assist not only individuals struggling with drug addiction, but the community as a whole.
In 1986, a former addict attended an HIV/AIDS prevention meeting where another addict spontaneously started distributing clean needles. From this, Jon Parker gained the impetus to form the first needle exchange program in the United States, located in New Haven, Connecticut (Associated Press). Since then, the number of needle exchange programs in America has grown rapidly. The current estimated number of exchange programs is 203, which is comprised of one or more locations in 34 states, including Washington DC and Puerto Rico (The Foundation for AIDS Research Information).
Needle exchange programs provide much more resources beyond the supply of clean needles, however. They offer additional many medical solutions, such as alcohol pads, condoms, vaccinations for both hepatitis A and B, and provide safe disposal for dirty syringes. They can give also addicts referrals to substance abuse clinics, and testing and counseling for HIV, STD’s, and related diseases. (Syringe/Needle Exchange Programs).
As a former addict and intravenous drug user, I can completely appreciate the value of these programs. IV drug users will use the same needle for as long as they can if they do not have ready access to another, and will swap needles with other users. This puts them at a much higher risk of contracting potentially fatal diseases than it would be if they had access to clean needles.
Many people seem to be under the belief that needle exchange programs harm their community by making drug use easier, but the fact is that addicts will use drugs intravenously with or without clean needles. If these groups of people are chronically ill, it endangers the public health of the community. Therefore, the needle exchange programs present an opportunity to supervise and improve the overall public health of a community. As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said in 2000, “After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed…that syringe exchange programs…are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs” (Satcher).
All in all, needle exchange programs simply provide improved safety to a group of people who are at high risks for many different communicable diseases. Contrary to the beliefs of some, needle exchange programs do benefit to the greater community of non-addicts. This is because addicts will have more opportunities to have their health evaluated – from STDs to HIV – as well as further opportunities to seek treatment, take preventative measures, and get clean.
Associated Press. “Needle Exchange: A Primer.” n.d. PBS.org. Web. 25 July 2013.
Satcher, Dr. David. “Evidence-Based Findings on the Efficacy of Syringe Exchange Programs: An Analysis from the Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General of the Scientic Research Completed Since April 1998.” 2000. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 25 July 2013.
“Syringe/Needle Exchange Programs.” n.d. DrugWarFacts.org. Web. 25 July 2013.
The Foundation for AIDS Research Information. “Syringe Exchange Program Coverage in the United States 2012.” 2012. amFAR. Web. 25 July 2013.
Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Recovery, Substance Abuse · Tags: Addiction, addicts, AIDS, clean needles, community, dirty needles, disease, drug addict, drug addiction, drug addiction HIV transmission, drugs, Hepatitis C, HIV, intravenous drug use, IV drugs, needle exchange, needle exchange programs, public health, sexually transmitted diseases, Sharing Needles, syringe, United States