Sarah Grace Goolden
Syringe exchange programs are working to reduce the transmission rates of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B or C and other blood-borne illnesses. These programs work by asking users to give up their used, dirty needles and in turn, they will receive clean ones. During this exchange, they are also exposed to treatment options. However, this rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Is it ethical to give heroin users needles, knowing that they’re going to use them for heroin? Some say no needles are better than clean ones. But I say clean needles are better than dirty ones, and if we are being realistic, lack of sterilized materials are not going to stop addicts from using. If we are going to try to tackle this issue, we need to look at the situation practically.
Users are going to use. If they do not have the means to access clean materials, they are going to resort to used ones. Infectious diseases and STDs can lurk in old needles. Everytime someone uses one, they risk infecting themselves. Needles are never safe unless they come right from a sterilized package and as soon as they are used, they must be disposed of properly.
Syringe exchange programs may seem like they are enabling drug use, but I see it more as enabling safe drug use. This may not be much, but it is better than people infecting themselves and others because of a lack of resources. We need to find the best possible scenario in a tricky situation, and I believe that preventing the spread of diseases is more important than trying to stop addiction altogether. I wish more than anything that we could just stomp out drug addiction right here and now, but I realize that is unrealistic.
While some programs are paid for by private donors, most rely on taxpayer funding. This makes a lot of people angry. They do not want their money going to keeping “junkies” on the street. Some ewould even say they would not want their money going to helping drug addicts at all.
There is still a stigma that addiction is a choice, not a disease, and therefore, users either need to clean up or suffer the consequences. It is impossible to make every single person care about these human beings. If you cannot muster sympathy or empathy for them, at least understand that dirty needles put entire communities at risk. Diseases contracted during shared syringe use can also be contracted during sex or exposure to bodily fluid.
Additionally, these places provide information, support and resources for those who are interested. Since it is a place where addicts are more likely to go, more are going to be exposed to this and might consider making a change in their life that they might otherwise have not.
Syringe exchange programs may not sound like the prettiest choice, but they are the most effective. The shame surrounding addiction needs to end. We cannot help addicts without acknowledging their drug use habits. That means we need a place to dispose of dirty needles and get clean ones. These programs lower the number of contaminated syringes in the community, reduce the spread of disease and I think are overall the best option we have.