Pubdate: Tue, 26 Mar 2002
Source: Grand Island Independent (NE)
Copyright: 2002 Grand Island Independent
Author: Meg Wanek
Note: Meg Wanek is a senior at Grand Island Central Catholic High School.
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


If you give a clean syringe to a drug addict, are you helping the person or 
are you hurting them?

Many states have been trying a method called a Needle Exchange Program 
(NEP), which has been successful in over 100 cities. Drug addicts bring in 
dirty needles and exchange them for clean syringes instead of sharing with 
each other. The program destroys the used needles in a safe manner.

NEPs do not condone drug use. The stated mission of these programs is 
primarily to stop the spread of AIDS and help identify and educate drug users.

Although only one-third of the national population rejects the program 
there are two main objections that have surfaced. The first is that 
neighborhoods which host a needle exchange program tend to degenerate. This 
view has also been illustrated to my own family.

My father is a pharmacist. He cooperated with the local Drug and Alcohol 
Council to sell clean syringes to people without a diabetic prescription. 
He also distributed large red plastic containers with the words "Wanek 
Pharmacy" on the side for the safe disposal of sharps (needles).

People in the neighborhood would call him complaining that they had found 
empty containers thrown in their yard. Many of the customers who purchased 
syringes exhibited erratic and sometimes threatening behavior, which is not 
conducive to retail shopping or a safe work environment for employees.

There was a definite increase in shoplifting and littering. The most 
successful area to offer the needle exchange is away from retail or 
residential neighborhoods.

Another objection of the numerical minority of people polled is that 
distributing free needles to drug abusers sends the message to kids that it 
is OK to do drugs. There are studies that prove that it has no adverse 
impact on kids.

Johns Hopkins University researchers interviewed 1,000 high school students 
about what influences them to use drugs. The students said their peers, 
family and close friends are the biggest influence.

The students surveyed also said NEPs were as likely to encourage them to 
use drugs than anti-drug ads were to discourage them from using drugs. 
Equally important the study found no evidence that the needle exchanges 
increased the rate of drug injecting by participants or attracted newcomers 
to take up drug injecting.

In many cities AIDS has plagued addicts who inject drugs, mainly because 
HIV can spread from person to person through the sharing of needles. Nearly 
40 percent of the 652,000 cases of AIDS reported in the U.S. have been 
linked to injection drug use. Over 10,000 drug users, their sex partners 
and their children contract HIV each year.

HIV isn't the only disease that can be transmitted through needles. Many 
injectors contact hepatitis C, which is easily transmitted and can cause 
chronic liver disease. Hepatitis B is also transmitted via injection drug use.

Not only does the Needle Exchange Program cut back on the spread of 
diseases it also saves the taxpayers money. To date, the cost to the United 
States taxpayers is over $833 million to care for the people who have 
contracted AIDS or other communicable diseases by using dirty needles. 
These people would not have become infected if clean needles had been 

The cost to the taxpayer to supply clean needles through the Needle 
Exchange Program doesn't just give people clean syringes in exchange for 
used ones. All of the programs make additional services available to 
participants including providing latex condoms, HIV counseling and testing, 
primary health care as well as drug counseling and treatment.

Drug addicts are going to do drugs no matter what, if they have a clean 
needle or not. We have to find ways to maintain and improve the health and 
the quality of life for the individuals in our society today. A good 
indication that the needle exchange program is working is that many of the 
drug addicts care enough to get clean needles and many pursue drug treatment.

A Needle Exchange Program is an excellent idea. It offers the drug addict 
support and guidance while helping stay AIDS free and on their way to 
recovery. Economically it is the best use of the American peoples' tax 
money. This is an excellent program to have.

I know from seeing drug abusers in my dad's pharmacy that these people 
could set their lives back on track if they only had the help and guidance 
they need. I will not use drugs but I can't stop everyone else. We can only 
make it safer for them.
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MAP posted-by: Beth