Needle Exchange Program
Needle Exchange Program
There is a killer in California, claiming victims every day, and there is little hope of stopping it at any time soon. What I am speaking of is the effect of an epidemic that can be greatly reduced by changing the laws regarding possession and availability of syringes and hypodermic needles by intravenous (IV) drug users. Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) caused by shared hypodermic needles is preventable.
People use hypodermic needles as a means of putting their drug of choice into their system as quickly as possible. The idea is to put the drug directly into a vein as opposed to intramuscularly injecting, where the drug is diverted to the central nervous system at a slower rate. Other names for injecting are mainlining, shooting up, and slamming.
In California it is against the law to possess any instrument used for injecting a controlled substance (CHSC). On September 30, 2002 Governor Davis vetoed bill number SB 1785 providing for an amendment to the current law that would allow possession and purchase of syringes by individuals over age 18. On October 1, 2002 he vetoed SB 1734 that would have allowed needle exchange programs to operate within the state (California).
Since 1992 bills have been presented and rejected in California that would allow needle exchange programs to operate. When introducing her bill for needle exchange programs in 1997, Sen. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, said that transmission of HIV among IV drug users decreases by thirty percent when clean needles are made available and also increases the chance of addicts going into recovery programs for help with their addiction (“Former”). Exchange programs operate throughout the state without the approval or backing of state government. Users may be hesitant to take advantage of these programs for fear of being seen, by police, coming or going with needles in their possession.
There are numerous issues to be considered with regard to the legality of possession of syringes. Why would anyone want to inject drugs to begin with? If it were a need for the addict, then what would influence the first time user to inject? Purity and sterility of street drugs is questionable under any circumstances. Curiosity, peer pressure, and the thrill of a new experience, legal or not, seems to be enough to recruit new users.
Some of the most common controlled substances commonly injected are heroin, methamphetamine or meth, and cocaine. Although all three are addicting, the effects of heroin are the most difficult for the addict to deny, and the addictive properties of Methadone, the most common treatment for heroin addiction, are no less desirable than the symptoms of heroin withdrawal itself. The difference is that Methadone is legal and has proven to reduce crime associated with heroin use by placing addicts within the law.
The addict often prefers injection to other mean of ingestion because of the rush that is experienced when the full effects of a self-administered dose are felt all at once. With heroin it is a sudden feeling of euphoria, well-being, and relaxation that overcomes the user. The injector of methamphetamine, or speed, feels what seems to be the final part of an exhalation with heat in the chest as the heart picks up it’s pace in response to the foreign substance. When a person slams cocaine the rush is felt as a ringing in the ears accompanying the same racing heartbeat that the meth user feels, however the length of time the overall high lasts with the cocaine user is significantly shorter that that of heroin or meth.
Opponents of decriminalizing the possession of needles need only cite the growing numbers of HIV and HCV patients who were infected by sharing injection equipment to show that many new cases can be avoided. If people are going to use drugs intravenously, whether legal or not, then a great part of the detriment caused by needle sharing can be avoided by sensible legislation.
Needle exchange programs provide education to users as well as clean needles. By requiring a one for one exchange of syringes, used needles can be disposed of properly and reduce the chance of someone becoming infected by accident. Needles left in public places such as parks, or on public transportation, as well needles in trashcans that must be handled manually, all have the potential to infect.
Fred Dillon, Policy Director at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, compares the costs of syringes to HIV treatment as fifteen cents for a syringe at a pharmacy and $34,000 a year to treat an individual infected with HIV (“Advocates”). Another cost that society must bear is for prosecution of those convicted of possessing needles.
If it were as simple as trying to control disease, then needle distribution or exchange would not be such a controversial issue. Needles are used with illegal drugs and some feel that making syringes available to anyone who wants them would promote drug use.
California Health and Safety Code 11364. 13 Oct. 2002. .
NewsRX. “Former Drug Users and physicians back needle exchange bill (California).” AIDS
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Collection. 10 Oct. 2002. Keywords: Needle Exchange.
State of California Website. 13 Oct. 2002. .
San Francisco Aids Foundation. “Advocates Praise Assembly Passage of Syringe Law.” SFAF
Outreach. 12 Oct. 2002.