North Texas Daily

Needle exchange programs are needed within our communities

Needle exchange programs are needed within our communities

Needle exchange programs are needed within our communities
January 23
16:29 2019

The opioid crisis needs to be considered a public health epidemic, not a criminal offense. Those who suffer from addiction are affected by a chronic disease of the brain. It is no more of a choice than someone diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or a smoker acquiring lung cancer. No one chooses a life of addiction for themselves.

Societal stigma continues to overpower the greater need for opioid users to receive sterile access to harm reduction program practices. Yet the risks of contracting a blood-transmitted infection are severely heightened without attainable access to needle exchange programs (NEP).

While other states are progressing in this matter, Texas is one of the last states in the U.S. that still does not legally permit the simplest of opioid harm reduction practices, such as NEP. Texas doesn’t even aim to protect nor exempt volunteer workers within these programs from paraphernalia laws. In one case, three workers were even arrested, according to a report by the University of Houston.

What is ironic is harm reduction programs not only aim to provide safe venues for needle and syringe disposal, but many also provide overdose prevention drugs, such as naloxone, fentanyl testing kits and educational prevention services. The whole concept of these programs is rooted in trying to keep people safe, but the few that exist within Texas borders are forced to disguise themselves from law enforcement’s prying eyes.

Publicly accessible safe needle disposals and needle exchange programs go hand in hand. High-risk Starbucks locations are taking preliminary action by implementing drug paraphernalia disposal bins after nearly 5,000 petitioners asked for recourse through an online petition. This along with other forms of drug safety and advocacy should be widely accepted.

This isn’t just a Starbucks issue or a localized drug user issue, though. This is an everyone and everywhere issue. There are people in our communities struggling with addiction and local businesses and employees in our communities trying to dispose of used syringes. Therefore, more businesses should follow in Starbucks’ footsteps to implement safe disposal of used drug paraphernalia.

These services will help our communities. They will help drug users, they will help lower possible HIV/AIDS and hepatitis transmissions and they will even improve the health and safety of local communal restrooms. So why are these services and disposal practices not more accessible to Texas citizens?

It can’t be because we don’t think Texas has been greatly impacted by opioids. The crisis is here and it’s increasing. Statistics provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services state that in the first quarter of 2018, Dallas had the second highest rate of HIV infections in the state. It’s also reported that poisoning-related deaths in which opioids were involved tripled in occurrence from 1999 to 2015 in Texas alone.

It can’t be about cost or resource allocation. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, needle exhange programs cost about $20 per user per year, compared to one infected AIDS patient, who will require about $120,000 per year in public health expenses.

Stigma and negative belief systems regarding the treatment of opioid users need to be reevaluated. Increased efforts to provide harm reduction practices will not normalize or increase drug usage, they will simply harbor safety precautions to further protect communities. What is our excuse?

Featured Illustration: Shannon Quillman

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madeline chalkley

madeline chalkley

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