The United States of America has been contending with adverse social and economic effects of drug abuse, particularly heroin, since the country’s foundation.
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 legislative actions regarding heroin have produced ominous results, they rarely affect anyone other than the addict and their family. However, the late twentieth century brought the ever-infringing AIDS epidemic in conjunction with heroin abuse. The distribution of clean needles to intravenous (IV) drug users is being encouraged to prevent the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from sharing contaminated needles” (Glantz 1077). This paper advocates for 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 in drug use.
This can be justified simply by examining the evidence that supports needle exchange programs and their main objective of preventing the spread of HIV. Countries around the world have realized that prohibiting clean needles will not prevent IV drug use, but only prevent safe IV drug use (Glantz 1078). Europeans have been taking advantage of needle exchange programs in Amsterdam since the early 1980s (Fuller 9). Spain’s first needle exchange program was established in 1988 and has since been joined by 59 additional programs to advocate for 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 are a result of this acceptance. These programs, for the most part, are established to support needle exchange” more so than “needle distribution.” Many needle exchange programs have been initiated by recovering addicts who understand “the realities of addiction and the potential harm of needle sharing.” Perhaps addicts feel more comfortable taking advice from someone who 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. This reduces 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. Unlike some of their European counterparts, needle exchange programs in the U.S. prioritize anonymity and safety.
S. does 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 cannot 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 regarding the effectiveness of needle exchange programs is necessary to provide the basis for making proper legislative decisions. 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.