Opinion: Do Needle Exchange Programs Encourage Drug Use?
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 Advocates of Needle Exchange Programs
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.
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.
Needle Exchange Programs do Encourage Drug Use According to those who are Against the Program
Many people opposed to needle exchange programs needle exchange programs encourage drug use. They believe that if drug addicts want to use drugs they should live with consequences. 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’ essentially encouraging the use. Those opposed also 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.
So are needle exchange programs encouraging drug use, really?
The opinions on this are probably endless. But here is (I am coming from a place of being a recovered addict and former IV drug user) my stand point: if I am going to use drugs, I am going to be using drugs regardless of whether or not I have clean needles. The offering of clean needles doesn’t encourage my drug use it just makes it safer. Most addicts and alcoholics don’t need any encouragement to use drugs, I know I sure didn’t and I have never seen a needle exchange program. Not only that, but when I was sold needles and once or twice got clean needles from an AIDS clinic I realized no one was co-signing my drug use. I believe this is the case with most drug addicts. Walking into a needle exchange program you are not under the false belief that the program thinks what you are doing is ok. I mean many of us IV users are happy to have clean needles, but it is scary and kind of embarrassing, as well as weird to walk into a place and pretty much announce to it that you are an IV drug user. Not only that but you are hyper aware of the fact that are having to offer you clean needles so you don’t get HIV or Hepatitis C. They are doing you a favor not saying what you are doing is ok in the least. At least that was my understanding. It is my belief that if those needle exchange programs weren’t there it wouldn’t discourage addicts from using or keeps them from using needles and getting high (it didn’t discourage me), so I can’t honestly say that that needle exchange programs encourage drug use either. Needle exchange programs neither discourage nor encourage. They merely are there for safety and harm reduction. And I have to believe that is a good thing. And personally I do.
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