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Why create needle exchange programs in the first place?

Around the globe there are illicit drug users who inject drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and prescription pills directly into the bloodstream with syringes or needles. For many IV users, sterile needles can be hard to come by and drug paraphernalia in some countries make them hard to acquire. As a result of this many drug users share needles, spreading diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.  These diseases have become near pandemics.

That is why some activists and cities started to open what some have today known as needle exchange programs.

What are needle exchange programs?

Needle exchange programs are government funded programs that supply clean needles to drug addicts so that they are at a lower risk of sharing needles and spreading diseases. Needle exchange programs are harm prevention for those who didn’t “just say no to drugs”.

The opponents take on needle exchange programs-‘Just Say No’

Those who are opposed to the needle exchange program argue that needle exchange programs condone illicit and immoral behavior. They believe that governments should focus on punishing drug users, discouraging them from using drugs and providing treatment for quitting.

Those who are opposed to needle exchange programs also believe that these programs send the wrong message.

They say that needle exchange programs muddle the message to the community and young people. Needle exchange programs, as harm reduction campaigns, instead of supporting zero tolerance, say ‘if you do decide to take drugs, we’ll help you with clean needles’.

Those opposed to needle exchange programs believe that there should be a clear ‘NO’ on drugs. And last but not least those opposed to needle exchange programs say that HIV transmission and Hepatitis C transmission have increased despite the use of needle exchange campaigns and programs and not just that but if an addict should choose to use drugs they must live with the risk of transmitting diseases.

Those opposed to needle exchange programs believe that increasing treatment is a better idea than increasing the number of needle exchange programs. Those opposed say there are better ways of attacking the drug problem than legally giving away clean needles. Those against needle exchange programs want to do things different; such as providing more health care coverage for the uninsured, creating more opportunities for counseling and increasing funding for drug treatment.

The advocates take on needle exchange programs-Harm Reduction

Those who are advocates for needle exchange programs fully believe in harm reduction. They believe that harm reduction should be over all else. They say that if individuals are unwilling or unable to change their addictive behaviors at the time, they should not be denied needle exchange programs to keep them safe. Some describe this advocacy for needle exchange programs as compassionate and pragmatic.

In response to needle exchange programs condoning drug, advocates of the needle exchange programs say that they don’t condone but offer care. Advocates believe that providing clean needles to IV drug users does not condone the behavior but says that they will still care about them and want them to be healthy again as a first step to becoming a productive member society.

Needle exchange programs according to those who are pro needle exchange campaigns are not just about protecting the drug addicts they are also about protecting the public from the consequences of spreading disease. Needle exchange programs decrease the spread of infectious disease and therefore reduce healthcare costs too. Not only do needle exchange programs save money by inhibiting the spread of disease according to advocates it also keeps tax payers from having to pay for the treatment that most addicts with HIV or Hepatitis C use, government funded treatment.

It is said, that those drug users who use needle exchange programs or have needle exchange programs in their area have an increased likelihood of attending drug rehab or addiction treatment. This is because of the area of compassion that needle exchange programs provide while also being able to give drug users a way out when they show up if they choose they want to stop. In some instance advocates believe this is better than using treatment as a punishment or alternative to jail.

When it comes to needle exchange programs the debate could go on, literally forever, of the pros and cons. The point is though that addiction is a disease; most addicts can’t stop using drugs unless they get outside help. Whether it’s through opening more opportunities for drug treatment and counseling or harm reduction through needle exchange programs which can lead to a more healthy lifestyle, I feel as if the whole point should try to be helpful not hurtful.

My own personal opinion? A harm reduction facility probably saved my life while I was using. I am not trying to sway anyone’s thoughts in one direction or the other I just know what is true for myself and hopefully you can find what is true for you.

So, needle exchange programs: Harm Reduction or ‘Just Say No’. What are your thoughts?

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