Do Needle Exchange Programs Promote The Use of Heroin?

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Public health issues often bring out passionate responses and robust debate that provides many viewpoints on emotionally charged topics. Needle exchange program advocates state that providing clean needles to drug addicts helps to prevent the spread of HIV. Proponents believe that those that choose to use heroin are going to use it whether or not clean needles are available. Those against the policy believe that by providing clean needles, communities are encouraging and even condoning drug abuse. Clean needle exchange programs belong to a harm reduction policy with the goal of reducing the health and social implications of drug use. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 90 percent of new cases of AIDS are linked to drug injection.

Decreasing Negative Consequences
The aim of a needle change program is to reduce the negative consequences of injecting heroin. Along with clean needles, the program also provides outlets for victims to seek treatment and get medical care. The hope is that by offering these programs, drug addicts can eventually get on the road to recovery. Since heroin addiction requires significant interventions, drug addicts may not find opportunities to help themselves without such programs. Experts state that these harm reduction policies can act as a bridge that brings users to treatment centers and improves the odds of recovery, while reducing the spread of disease.

Cost-Effective Measures
Proponents of clean needle programs state that it’s unlikely that new users are going to start using drugs because of the program. New users tend to approach heroin carefully and with at least some trepidation. The long time and addicted users tend to stop caring about what they put in their arm as long as the pain and suffering resulting from withdrawal gets resolved. Because of this, drug addicts tend to use the same needle or share needles. However, a program that supplies clean needles has a greater likelihood of reaching those that need the most help. The federal government has banned funding these programs since 1988, but certain communities maintain their own programs to support clean needle initiatives. The US briefly lifted the ban in 2009 and then reinstated it in 2010. Proponents say that the cost of the programs helps to control the spread of disease and help drug addicts recover.

Public Support for Programs
Program support varies across the country. Many residents in areas where clean needles are given out argue that the process makes neighborhoods less safe by bringing drug addicts to the area. Reports of needles littered throughout the neighborhood and people shooting up on the street make residents fearful of these programs. However, the American Medical Assocation, Center for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine support the concept of needle exchange programs. Recovering addicts often cite that needle exchange programs save lives by providing the support and resources necessary to get out of a difficult situation. Many recovering addicts that contracted AIDS argue that had a needle exchange program existed, they would never have contracted the disease.

Increasing Drug Use
A properly managed needle exchange program aims to reduce the number of used needles. Communities shouldn’t notice an increase in used needles, since drug addicts would receive a benefit from exchanging unsterile needles for clean ones. Some programs charge a small fee for the service, while others offer the service entirely free to the public. Two types of programs exist — needle and syringe programs (NSP) and syringe exchange programs (SEP). NSP programs typically provide all equipment free of charge to drug users. SEP programs only provide needles in exchange for the needles brought to the center. The World Health Organization stated in 2004 that these types of programs greatly reduce the spread of HIV in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, no evidence exists to support an increase of drug use as a result of these programs.

Drug Rehab Center Offerings
Drug rehabilitation centers that offer these programs do so in conjunction with other services that help keep communities safe and help drug addicts recover. Disease testing, counseling and in-patient treatment help drug users to get off the streets. The CDC states that nearly 20 percent of new HIV infections come as the result of drug use. Erradicating this disease requires users to stick to clean needles to prevent the spread of disease. As a high public health concern, reputable institutions take the matter seriously to ensure that drug addicts receive the treatment and care necessary for recovery. Programs offer a safe and effective method to dispose of needles and reduce the possibility of infected needles littering the streets. Advocates also point out that the program not only provides a benefit to the drug user, but can also help dependents and spouses of the drug addict from getting infected. Drug centers may offer exchange services, provide bleach and other cleaning equipment necessary to clean needles and mental health support for victims.