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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Needle Exchanges and Safe Injection Sites

With the rise in heroin use in recent years there has been a shift in opinion among lawmakers who were traditionally against funding clean needle exchanges - sites where IV drug users could acquire needles to prevent the spread of disease, such as HIV or hepatitis C. The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic has hit almost every state, which has seen a dramatic rise in opioid overdose deaths and the spread of infectious disease.

Historically, needle exchanges operated on state and health organization funding, which was manageable in the 1990’s, but in the 21st Century the epidemic we face has overwhelmed needle exchanges. In order to keep such services in operation, more funding is needed and that’s where the federal government could be of great help. In December, Congress lifted the ban on federal funding for needle exchanges, Buzzfeed reports. However, the repeal was partial, meaning that the fed will pay for all of needle exchanges overhead except the syringes.

“It will take a lot of [financial] pressure off these groups,” said Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California at San Diego.

What’s more, in some states and cities, a novel approach is being taken regarding needle exchanges. An activist in Seattle has plans to create a mobile needle exchange safe injection site, The Los Angeles Times reports. The service would provide clean needles and an environment for people to inject safely, and if a problem arises there will be medical help available.

"Think of the benefits of a safe injection site," said Shilo Murphy, executive director of the nonprofit People’s Harm Reduction Alliance. "No needles on the ground, rapid response for those needing detox, connections to sources and services—and a nurse!”

While such sites would be against state law, they may be what are required until we, as a nation, gain control of this insidious opioid epidemic.

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