Understanding Needle Exchange Programs
Harm reduction programs don’t have the long-term efficacy of inpatient drug treatment, but they are often the best way to prevent people from causing irreversible damage to themselves and others. One of the most controversial of these programs is needle exchange – a policy which some nations have already implemented. It allows people addicted to heroin and other injectable drugs to get clean needles for free. In order to lower addiction rates and promote better public health, more Americans should learn about needle exchange programs.
The Dangers of Injection
People often inject heroin, cocaine, and other narcotics because it produces the most fast-acting and extreme high. The drugs bypass most of the body’s metabolic processes and instantaneously pass the blood-brain barrier. Within seconds of injection, addicts can feel the euphoria and relief they so desperately crave.
Unfortunately, these extreme highs come at an equally severe cost. Injection is arguably the most dangerous method of drug consumption, and its side effects kill thousands of people every year. Some of the most common dangers include:
*Track marks and sores
*Infection at injection sites
*Necessary amputation of infected limbs
*Nerve and tissue damage from missed injections
*Tetanus and Cellulitis
Worst of all, injecting can lead to the transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne pathogens. Since clean hypodermic needles can be hard to find, heroin addicts often live in makeshift communities where users share needles. This practice almost inevitably leads them to contract deadly illnesses.
How Needle Exchange Can Help
Most of the world’s current needle exchange programs offer fresh needles, sterilization supplies, and other important medical equipment for little or no cost. Some participants are required to bring their dirty needles for exchange, but most countries’ systems won’t turn down people with nothing to offer.
The idea behind this practice is that it will minimize the harm heroin users do to themselves – as well as anyone else who might share their needles. HIV is rampant among injectible drug addicts, and many addiction experts assert that ignoring the problem will only make it worse. As evidenced by the failing War on Drugs, severe consequences rarely dissuade addicts from consuming drugs.
Federal and state governments in the United States do not currently support needle exchange, and many people would like to keep things that way. Opponents claim that offering free supplies to addicts will only encourage their drug habits and lead to higher rates of substance abuse. However, studies show that addicts who participate in these programs also attend long-term rehab treatments at higher rates than those who don’t. Ultimately, the status quo is not likely to change until more voters and politicians become educated on the true pros and cons of needle exchange – as well as the nature of addiction itself.
Although needle exchange is currently outlawed in the United States, it has been accepted for short periods over the last twenty years. It has been shown during clinical trials that the availability of needle exchange did not cause an increase in drug injection. These findings were supported by the Surgeon General, the National Institute of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Other countries have also had positive results. For instance, Switzerland saw a marked decrease in its rate of HIV contraction once it implemented needle exchange. Similar programs have also helped curb the spread of AIDS in Brazil, Portugal, and several Scandinavian countries. While there are potential drawbacks to needle exchange, the results thus far indicate that it may be a viable way to reduce the harm from the worldwide addiction epidemic.
If you’re struggling with heroin or other drugs, you are in serious danger. Call the number above to speak with one of our dedicated representatives, and learn how you can overcome your cravings once and for all. Inpatient drug treatment can allow you to retake your life – if you only ask for help.