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Do Needle Exchanges Promote Harm Reduction?

Intravenous administration of drugs is the riskiest way to use drugs. When you abuse street drugs, the majority of the risk is related to the needle. The drugs are dangerous, and usually, there’s no way to know how strong they are or what else may be in them. It’s even unsafe to use them along with other substances like alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs. Some drugs that can be injected are:

  • Bath Salts
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy
  • Ketamine
  • PCP
  • Prescription drugs like Vicodin and Adderall

Using drugs intravenously, a person has most likely a progressed form of addiction. Besides addiction to the drug, being more likely to overdose, many other major health concerns follow the repeated injection of drugs. Besides viruses, other health issues can come over time with repeated injection of drugs. There is damage that can be done to internal organs of course but there are many different types of damage a user can do to their skin as well. This can be a result of injecting regularly, using potentially tainted needles, or injecting into fat or muscle by accident due to missing the vein, and injected right under the skin called “skin popping.” This can result in a painful lump that could potentially cut off blood flow to the area. Other skins problems that can arise are:

  • Heavy bruising
  • Abscesses
  • Severe bacterial skin infections like cellulitis
  • Fungal infections

Do Needle Exchange Programs Work?

According to the US National Library of Medicine, (NCBI), in 1974, the World Health Organization endorsed harm reduction as a means “to prevent or reduce the severity of problems associated with the non-medical use of dependence-producing drugs.” (World Health Organization, 1974) Needle exchange is the primary method of harm reduction with narcotics that are injected. The aim of a needle exchange program (NEP) is to provide each injecting drug user with a clean syringe for every injection. In this way, NEPs reduce the harm associated with sharing or re-using needles including the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and HCV, as well as other infections from the use of dull, contaminated needles. NEPs can have a collateral impact on user’s wellbeing by providing a gateway to services.

Are Needle Exchange Programs a Success?

Although NEPs have produced positive statistics, reports that they have been proven to reduce HIV and HCV infection rates by about 50%, many concerns remain regarding federal funding, enabling community injection drug use, and the legal system. Reasons to support NEPs in your state or community:

  • they reduce the number of contaminated needles being shared among intravenous drug users, which is reducing the rates of hepatitis and HIV infection.
  • NEPs also offer counseling services and health care screenings to IDUs returning needles. Despite these service offerings, NEPs are very cost-effective.

Although there are many benefits to NEPs, there are also several downfalls:

  • by giving clean needles to a known IDU, opponents feel NEPs are directly encouraging and promoting the use of drugs
  • NEPs could also portray to the community that illicit drug use is “accepted” as long as a clean needle is used, thus increasing the number of potential IDUs
  • NEP programs lead to increased crime rates and incidences of dirty syringes improperly disposed of in streets and parks. These incidences hurt communities, often decreasing property values, harming local businesses, and discouraging the growth of the community.

There are mixed feelings about NEPs and though the goal of harm reduction is not to get a person off of drugs or alcohol, these programs have led some individuals to seek addiction treatment. The non-judgemental approach can make a person feel less guilty and safe enough to ask for help.

Professional Treatment for Addiction

If you or a loved one is ready for that help, Evoke Wellness MA will be there for you. At Evoke Wellness Massachusetts, our primary goal is to make your treatment experience as comfortable and rewarding as possible. To get started on your journey of recovery and finally move past the vicious, cyclical devastation of active addiction, give us a call today. Our goal is to make recovery a thoroughly enjoyable and stress-free experience and pave the way for lifelong, substance-free living.