The Thing About Needle Exchange Programs


Not too long ago, I made a pilgrimage to visit some old friends—the three workers who run the Thursday evening mobile needle exchange clinic in Hollywood.

Every two weeks, with over a hundred syringes to be replaced, I’d go to the Thursday night needle exchange van in Hollywood. (Not all of these were used by me, of course. I would gladly take anyone’s dirty needles and replace it with a new syringe, still in wrapper. Looking back, I guess I was my own mini needle exchange program.) Regardless, I’d arrive every couple of weeks with a hundred plus used syringes to be replaced, which they did without question. And without cost.

Some misguided folks think needle exchange programs encourage using when the truth is: they encourage safer using. I thanked them for helping me avoid Hepatitis C.

This site is dedicated to quitting crystal meth. But like it or not, I’ve found myself a proponent of “harm reduction” when it comes to drug use. If we can reduce the harm the addict does to him or herself while still active in the disease, there will be less consequences (and far less medical cost) associated with recovery.

Needle exchange and other harm reduction programs are the enlightened way for our society to approach drug addiction until that “moment” the person who’s addicted becomes ready for recovery.

We can pray, extend the hand of CMA or AA, tell them our own story getting clean. But until they’re ready to stop, or at least give it their all to try, why not offer the user a safer way to use. This means free needle exchanges.

And for a dose of evidence-based recovery:

Between 1991 and 1997, the U.S. Government funded seven reports on clean needle programs for persons who inject drugs. The reports were unanimous that clean needle programs reduce HIV transmission, and no report found that clean needle programs cause rates of drug use to increase. These are the facts.

Encourage your local community to offer needle exchanges if they don’t already. Don’t view it as a way to enable using, but as a way to enable safer using so the consequences later, when hopefully, the addict is in recovery, will be far less.