The sharing of needles among intravenous drug users poses a serious public health problem. Intravenous drug usage is responsibility for 10% of new HIV cases annually. Needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce the number of HIV cases, and other diseases, in IV drug user populations, although as of last year there were only needle exchange programs in 33 states and the District of Columbia. This disparity seems to stem from the societal stigma attached to the usage of intravenous drugs and the common misconception that access to clean needles would cause an increase in drug usage, rather than a decrease in diseases contracted from sharing needles. This need to punish the drug user is part of the wider American Drug Policy that is rooted in misunderstanding and continually places the drug addict in a marginalized position within society, in an attempt to force them into sobriety. Those who know anything about addiction, or who have witnessed the growing number of incarcerated or illness stricken drugs addicts in the past 20 years understands that this does not work. Luckily, California has taken a more civilized approach to the problem of intravenous drug usage and established the California Needle Exchange Program.
What is the California Needle Exchange Program?
The Cali Needle Exchange Program is exactly what it sounds like. A person who uses intravenous drugs, such as heroin, can go to one of the many locations and exchange the used needles that they have for clean ones. Many of these programs, such as the one that just opened in Orange County, has a one for one plus program, meaning they will give you as many needles as you dispose of plus additional needles on top of that. The philosophy behind these programs is that offering intravenous drug users access to clean needles will promote safer usages and reduce the risk and spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Studies have shown that 2 out 5 HIV positive intravenous drug users are not even aware that they have contracted the disease, which makes the sharing of needles all that more dangerous.
The local needle exchanges are only a part of the larger picture of what California is attempting to do with their needle exchange program. On January 1st, 2015 the California Legislature passed a bill that removed restrictions on pharmacies so that they could sell an unlimited amount of syringes to people without a prescription. This means that if there isn’t a local needle exchange near the person using intravenous drugs, they can go to any number of pharmacies and purchase clean needles. It is at the pharmacy’s discretion as to whether they want to participate in this program, but many have chosen to, as studies have shown that access to clean needles greatly reduces the amount of newly infected intravenous drug users in the surrounding population.
How does the California Needle Exchange Program Work?
A fear faced by many intravenous drugs users is the judgment of the larger part of society. To many people, intravenous drug usage is a foreign and frightening concept, and it is this societal and self-imposed stigma that can cause many IV drug users to not seek out clean needles at exchange programs, for fear of judgment and reprisal. This however, is not the case with the Cali Needle Exchange Program. Volunteer doctors, nurses, and former IV drug users run majority of the local programs and their motivation is not to shame or guilt the drug users, but rather to offer the services necessary to help reduce the risk associated with IV drug usage.
The programs are very simple and require nothing but the need for a clean needle. In the case of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program, the IV drug users bring their used needles to the facility and then they are given a clean needle for everyone that they bring plus 20 additional needles for free. Besides the exchange of needles, most of these facilities also offer ancillary services, free of charge. Some of these services are:
- On-site HIV and Hepatitis C testing
- Referrals to health, housing, and treatment services
- Other harm reduction information and safe-sex supplies
Where Can I Find a Needle Exchange Program in California?
There are currently 35 exchange programs participating in the Cali Needle Exchange Program. A listing of them can be found on the California Department of Health’s website. The needle exchange program in Orange Count is only a few months old, so it has not been added to the state-wide registry yet, but information can be found on their website.
If you do not see a needle exchange program in your community, there are other options, such as the pharmacies participating in California’s AIDS Drugs Assistance Program. The only limitation on this program is that you be 18 years of age. A complete listing of these pharmacies can be found on Ramsell’s California ADAP website. The database is searchable by city, zip code, or county.
The California Needle Exchange Program is not designed to help intravenous drug users stop using; it is merely a social service available in order to help stop the spread of infectious diseases among IV drug users. That being said, there comes a point in many addicts’ lives when they no longer want to continue to live the way they have been living. They want to be free from the shackles that drug addiction has put them in and in order to break free many require treatment. Quitting drugs and living a clean and sober life can be difficult and in order to overcome this often life-threatening condition, they need a safe treatment option where they can attempt to rebuild their lives on a sober footing. Broadway Treatment Center offers just that and their experienced staff can help you or someone you love finally leave behind the life of addiction and join the many who have found the road to recovery. If you or someone you know would like to stop using IV drugs then contact one of the professionals at Broadway Treatment Center today, at 714-443-818.