Needle exchange programs around the country are becoming more popular as the epidemic of opiate and heroin abuse is getting more attention. A lot of people in the communities do not support needle exchange programs because they believe it will have negative effects on their community. They believe it will increase IV drug use and give addicts a safer way of using without the negative effects of sharing needles. Also, many people are worried about the increase in discarded needles on their streets. Without looking into the research behind the case, it would be easy to agree with these people, but studies show that needle exchanges have the opposite effects and are hugely beneficial to communities.
Needle exchanges are beneficial to not only the drug user by preventing the spread of blood borne diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C, they also benefit the communities in which they are operate by keeping used dirty needles off the street. This provides the homeless and other users alternatives to sharing needles and spreading diseases. Needle exchanges also serve as a gateway to engage hard to reach individuals in services like mental health, substance abuse counseling, housing and case management.
A recent study by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Miller School O Medicine compared Miami, (a city with no needle exchange program in place), with San Francisco which has many needle exchange programs. They found that there were 8 times more discarded used syringes on the streets of Miami even though Miami has half as many injection drug users than San Francisco. Some people argue and say that needle exchange programs promote drug use and will increase usage but research by the World Health Organization clearly demonstrates that needle exchange programs do not increase drug use.
Needle exchange programs typically deliver syringes at specific locations. However, they also have people who are recovering IV drug users who go out into the community and provide needles to large groups of users. Some of these users are unaware that the storefront programs exist or are unable to make the trip to these programs, or are scared and paranoid to visit. These liaisons feel a sense of purpose and in some cases help addicts get treatment. Needle exchange programs designate these people as HIV prevention workers and gives them a sense of identity. They can add it to their resume and can search for paying jobs as an HIV prevention worker.
Needle exchanges are greatly beneficial to communities. It is time that local governments look into the research done on these programs and seek the benefits for their own cities and communities.