The Pros and Cons of Needle Exchange Programs

America’s opioid crisis is out of control.  As time has marched on, the grip of addiction has spread throughout the nation, tearing apart people, families, and homes.  With no easy answers in sight, many legislators have begun experimenting with new approaches, such as drug decriminalization, methadone clinics, and needle exchange programs.  While most of these programs are still in their infancy and long-term results are hard to predict, they show promise.

The cost to society is exponential as shared needles lead to increases in hepatitis and HIV infections, paired with an overwhelmed criminal justice system.  While needle exchange programs remain one of the most controversial programs today, they seek to reduce infections transmitted by the sharing of dirty needles, helping to reduce the financial burden on Medicaid healthcare and the subsequent taxpayer system.  Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of these programs.

Understanding the Pros

Proponents of these programs cite many compelling benefits, arguing that these programs do not increase or further encourage drug use.  They believe the addict will do drugs either way, but the exchange program will lower the cost to society in multiple ways.  Some of the ways include a reduction in contaminated needles discarded in public areas, better access for addicts to drug treatment services, testing, and diagnostic services, better education about substance abuse, an open door into drug impacted communities, less risky sexual behaviors, fewer infections spread via contaminated needles, and fewer incidences of drug-induced behaviors.

Understanding the Cons

While it is readily apparent that “the war on drugs” has done little to nothing to address an ever-worsening problem, drug use is still one of the most stigmatized social problems we currently face.  Many people view addiction as a failure of a person and are unable to understand the medical links to addiction.  As such, they feel these programs are problematic because they could potentially encourage more frequent drug use, perpetuate the drug problem further within the community, cause more needle transmitted infections, enable further drug use, further burden an already burdened taxpayer system, increase crime rates near where programs are implemented and increase the number of dirty needles littered throughout the community.

While statistically, results have not always been consistent, a large percentage of studies conducted over the last few decades have shown promise with these programs.  As with most things, more time and study will be necessary to fully determine the long-term impact.  As this devastating issue continues to plague our society, new ideas must be implemented to address the root issues of drug addiction.  Programs that encourage healing through rehab, 12 step programs that tap into the power of God, and Christian programs like teen challenge centers have shown the most promise in a lasting solution.  Thus, needle exchange programs focus on getting addicts into rehab may be their most powerful initiative.