The United States of America has been contending with adverse social and
economic effects of the drug abuse, namely of heroin, since the foundation of
this country. Our initial attempt to outlaw heroin with the Harrison Narcotic
Act of 1914 resulted in the U.S. having the worst heroin problem in the world (Tooley
540). Although the legislative actions regarding heroin hitherto produced
ominous results that rarely affected any individuals other than the addict and
his or her family, the late twentieth century brings rise to the ever-infringing
AIDS epidemic in conjunction with heroin abuse.
The distribution of clean
needles to intravenous (IV) drug users is being encouraged in an attempt to
prevent the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from sharing
"contaminated needles" (Glantz 1077). It is the contention of this
paper to advocate the establishment and support of needle exchange programs for
intravenous drug users because such programs reduce the spread of HIV and do not
cause an increase of drug use. This can be justified simply by examining the
towering evidence that undoubtedly supports needle exchange programs and the
effectiveness of their main objective to prevent the spread of the HIV.
Countries around the world have come to realize that prohibiting the
availability of clean needles will not prevent IV drug use; it will only prevent
safe IV drug use (Glantz 1078). Understanding that IV drug use is an inescapable
aspect of almost every modern society, Europeans have been taking advantage of
needle exchange programs in Amsterdam since the early 1980’s (Fuller 9).
Established in 1988, Spain’s first needle exchange program has since been joined
by 59 additional programs to advocate the use of clean injection equipment (Menoyo
410) in an attempt to slow the spread of HIV.
Several needle exchange programs
sponsored by religious organizations in Australia have "reported no new HIV
infections resulting from needle sharing over the past three years" (Fuller
9). Public safety groups in the United States are rapidly beginning to accept
the effectiveness of needle exchange programs. The 113 needle exchange programs
that are currently operating throughout the United States (Bowdy 26) are a
result of this acceptance. These programs for the most part are established to
support "needle exchange" more so than "needle distribution"
(Fuller 10). Many needle exchange programs have been initiated by recovering
addicts who understand "the realities of addiction and the potential harm
of needle sharing" (Fuller 9). Perhaps addicts feel more comfortable taking
advice from some one whom has been there and knows what they are going through.
Social interaction between the addict and program is quite simple. Program
clients are asked to donate their old injection equipment in exchange for new
materials and identification cards issued by some programs, allowing the users
to carry their injection equipment anywhere (Loconte 20), reducing the need to
share needles. Volunteers keep track of old needles collected and sterile ones
given out with "a coding system that allows participants to remain
anonymous" (Green 15). Unlike some of their European counterparts, needle
exchange programs in the U.S. do not advocate the use of vending machines to
dispense hypodermic needles (Fuller 10).
American programs understand the grave
importance of regular contact between the addict and caring members of society
who inform addicts about various avenues of health care and recovery during each
visit (Fuller 10). The assistant director of the Adult Clinical AIDS Program at
Boston Medical Center, Jon Fuller, feels that this intimate approach by American
programs conveys "a powerful message to addicts that their lives and
well-being are still valued by the community" despite their inability to
"break the cycle of addictive behavior" (10). Addicts who can not stay
clean or get admitted into a drug treatment program should be encouraged to take
the necessary precautions to perform safe injections and not put others at risk
as a result of their habit (Glantz 1078). From 1981 to 1997, drug related HIV
cases in the United States rose from 1 to 31 percent not including infants and
sexual partners infected by the user (Fuller 9). With contaminated needles
infecting 33 Americans with HIV daily (Fuller 11), it was only a matter of time
before an in-depth analysis of the drug related AIDS epidemic was made. More
comprehensive research in regards to the effectiveness of needle exchange
programs is necessary to provide the basis for making proper legislative
The ban currently preventing federal funds from being allocated to
support needle exchange programs in the U.S. greatly curtails the means
necessary to establish and operate an effective needle exchange program.
President Clinton initially planned .