Needle exchange programs provide a location where those who inject illegal drugs can bring their used needles and exchange them for clean, sterile ones. Many people feel that needle exchanges are condoning drug use, but proponents of the practice see it as reducing harm to drug users, including transmission of diseases and accidental overdoses that can come from collapsing veins when they are not properly cared for.
Needle exchanges can also be a gateway to Colorado heroin addiction treatment when personnel make it known to users that treatment help is available. About 3,000 used needles a day are turned in at Denver’s needle exchange, and while the staff at needle exchanges do not push drug treatment and abstinence, those who come to the exchange know that help is available if and when they want it.
Transmission of Blood Infections Through Drug Injections
Used syringes can harbor bacteria and viruses, including bloodborne infections like Hepatitis C (HCV), Hepatitis B (HBV) and even HIV, though drug use now only accounts for less than 4 percent of new infections annually. These diseases can be passed from one user to another when needles are shared. HCV, in particular, can persist for weeks on a syringe without dying.
In 2016, nearly 900 new and chronic cases of HCV were diagnosed in Colorado, and although some of these cases may be attributable to other reasons than sharing needles while illegally injecting drugs, the jump from the previous year of almost 300 more cases goes along with increases in heroin use over the same time period.
Nevertheless, the number of users who reported sharing a syringe declined in recent years from over 40 percent to 35.5 percent, which means fewer cases of HCV and other bloodborne diseases than there would have been otherwise.
Next Step: Safe Injection Sites?
Some proponents of needle exchanges do not believe they go far enough in promoting harm reduction for those who inject drugs. Executive director of Denver’s Harm Reduction Action Center Lisa Raville notes that users who come to the needle exchange then need to go back out on the streets to inject the drugs, which puts them at risk for overdoses.
With safe injection sites, users are monitored to prevent overdoses and can dispose of needles right away, removing the possibility that they could be reused or shared and spread diseases. Raville notes that not a single person has died at the dozens of safe injection sites around the world because of the trained personnel there.
For now, safe injection sites are not available in Colorado. However, addiction treatment is. The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake provides Colorado addiction resources and treatment to those who want to fight their drug addiction. Contact us today!