Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) have been controversial topics for decades, and in 2011, the 21-year ban was lifted, making needle exchange programs part of Congress’ new policy to federally fund sterile syringes to injection drug users. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, it’s clear that an issue like this would have a heated debate surrounding it. On one hand, syringe programs are designed to help prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases and provide education regarding HIV and substance abuse. On the other hand, programs like these require government spending, and not everyone is in favor of helping those battling drug addiction.
Perhaps this issue is one that lies deeper, beyond the difficulties of syringe exchange programs. People who haven’t been faced with substance abuse in their personal lives tend to be less understanding of the issue. They often believe that drug addiction is a choice; a way of life. Therefore, it’s hard to put their hard-earned dollars into programs for drug addicts who continually abuse drugs. Furthermore, there is another real issue that lingers, and that’s the fact that needle exchange programs may facilitate drug behavior. After all, many may misread the government’s signals for safety to be acceptance of using drugs.
What the Research Says about SEPs
Fortunately, the evidence shows no such proof of an increase in drug abuse from SEPs. Studies have been done on these programs, and the findings are always consistent: Needle exchange programs prevent blood-borne illness and disease and do not increase illegal drug use. The ban that was initiated in the 1980s was irresponsible because it undermined the safety of these drug users while allowing diseases to spread. Some evidence suggests that there is an 80% reduction in high-risk behavior, which results in a 30% reduction of HIV in injection drug users as a result of needle programs.
There’s another point to consider as well. For those concerned about wasting tax dollars on needle exchange programs, keep in mind the end result of injection-drug users: treatment. Treatment costs more in the long run than SEPs, and the best interest of the public should always be kept in mind. Intervention should not be withheld from people just because they are using drugs. Studies report that the cost of each syringe is just .97 cents, while the cost of treating an individual infected with HIV is $190,000.
If your family has been touched by drugs, you would have to agree that needle exchange programs are critical to the safety and protection of the community at large. Not only do these programs protect those who are injecting drugs, but also those who they are sexually active with and the children they produce. Syringe exchange programs don’t just offer sterile needles, either. They provide:
- Education and counseling on HIV and AIDS
- Condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
- Onsite HIV testing and crisis intervention
- Screening for blood diseases, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and tuberculosis
- Alcohol swabs to prevent bacterial infections
- Referrals to substance abuse treatment
Challenges Needle-Exchange Programs Face
Although SEPs are receiving more government support than in previous years, these programs continue to face many challenges. They are still costly to run, and many people oppose these programs and don’t want them in their communities for fear that they will condone drug use and drug trafficking. Today, there are over 220 sterile needle programs in 33 states, and some are federally funded while others use private funds.
At The River Source, we can understand both sides of the fence on this issue. However, when we meet the people who have been dealing with drug addiction, we see real individuals instead of “drug addicts.” We meet with their loving families who have not had to face further complications from HIV or Hepatitis in their loved one thanks to needle exchange programs. Therefore, we agree that all people deserve the best quality of care. SEPs also provide education and resources for drug users so that if they do want to quit using, they can get the help they need and continue treatment at a holistic facility such as The River Source.