By: ATSI Admin
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New Jersey’s Needle Exchange Program
One of the many dark consequences of heroin addiction is the transmission of deadly diseases through the use of dirty needles. New Jersey communities have been ravaged by heroin and are now trying to reduce the spread of disease with the implementation of controversial needle exchange programs.
The Syringe Access Program (SAP)
A needle exchange program distributes free, sterile needles. Heroin users can pick up new needles at the program’s distribution center and then bring back the used needles in exchange for sterile ones. The goal of the program is to curb diseases like HIV and AIDS, which are commonly spread between heroin addicts that use dirty needles.
New Jersey launched its needle exchange program in 2007 under the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act. The program, called the Syringe Access Program (SAP), was made possible by $10 million in subsidies, as well as $750,000 in taxpayer money. With backing from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, needle exchange programs are currently located in five New Jersey cities: Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson.
Proponents of the Program
The needle exchange program does not turn heroin users into authorities, but rather provides heroin users with opportunities to seek treatment. Supporters of the program see the SAP as a way to reduce the risk of disease transmission while also helping to turn their lives around through therapeutic means. “Sterile syringe access programs, which include drug treatment and behavioral interventions, are one model proven to significantly prevent/reduce the transmission of these diseases,” Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said in a report.
Opponents of the Program
Then there are those who don’t agree with the needle exchange program, since it can be very difficult to reach out to heroin users who can be unpredictable and highly controlled by the substance; one day a user may accept sterile needles and the next day be so consumed with the drug that the cleanliness of the needle is inconsequential.
Other opponents argue that these programs enable drug use and that providing new needles only encourages the cycle of addiction. Despite the needle exchange and its efforts to provide treatment, heroin abuse continues to increase dramatically; in 2011, it took the lives of 368 New Jersey residents.
Reports show that only about half of SAP participants actually return with the distributed needles to exchange them for clean needles. It is also difficult to say whether or not the clean needles are used only once and then thrown away, or if they are then passed on to someone else.
Do you agree or disagree with needle exchange programs?