On March 21, the National Day of Action on Syringe Exchange educates the public about the life-saving importance of sterile needles and syringe exchange services. The injection drug users with the care they need to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and other infections.

Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) are community-based clinics where individuals can bring used needles for safe disposal while being provided with clean needles for their own use, focusing on harm reduction rather than enforcing abstinence. This grants the approximately 2.4 billion injection drug users in the United States (who inject about 1,000 times a year) the access to life-saving care, limits the biohazardous effects in communities and ensures that individuals have access to safe equipment that reduces the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other health complications.

The National Day of Action on Syringe Exchange seeks to ensure that injection drug users are not stigmatized but treated with respect and dignity while encouraging safer injecting practices through sterile water, alcohol wipes, condoms, and relevant health information regarding substance abuse.

Needle exchanges were established in the 1980s and have led to a reduction of risky behavior by as much as 80%, while HIV/AIDS cases have declined by nearly 30%. However, they operate on a limited basis, and due to their controversial nature aren’t available in all fifty states. Many states have laws that prohibit the sale of drug paraphernalia, which includes needles, while only 29% supported legalizing safe injection sites in their communities.

In 2016, Congress partially lifted a ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs, but last year a San Diego judge blocked an Orange County program from operating and providing care, harm reduction, and safer-sex supplies and information.

While drug use is not encouraged, it is important that users take advantage of syringe exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and seek out appropriate addiction treatment options. Sharing needles has become the most common mode of HIV transmission for injection drug users, and seeking the care you need is important. Rather than label these services as “needle giveaways”, there is much at stake to ensure misinformation is not spread but that the public is educated about the life-saving benefits of needle exchange programs.

Rather than encourage and increase drug use and serve as a “drug user magnet,” SEPs serve as a pathway for recovery, existing as a vital resource in a place where there is a need. Needle exchange programs increase the availability of sterile injection equipment, seeking to lower the risk of new HIV infections by decreasing the circulation of contaminated needles.

It is more important now than ever for communities are safe from dirty needles in their neighborhoods, and that SEPs are open for care on more days of the week in and in more locations.

The National Day of Action on Syringe Exchange was created in 2012 in response to the federal Congressional ban and to destigmatize the need for help amongst drug users. Today, amidst the urgency for action in the nationwide opioid epidemic and the widespread drug use in Orange County and beyond, it is more important than ever for individuals to access destigmatized education and care.

This year’s Day advocates for more widespread permanent syringe disposal in cities and communities, the availability of needle pickups, and quick access to care through hotlines, email addresses, and social media. The day also highlights the importance of building a database of littered needles and conducting disposal sweeps in syringe litter hotspots. It permits that special efforts should be made to reach and retain hard-to-reach subgroups of injection drug users, such as young users and female users.

The day also seeks to educate the public on the reality that shutting down needle exchange programs will fail to end drug use in Orange County and in other neighborhoods throughout the country. Rather than help the community by encouraging more drug use, the harm reduction model through limiting access and funding to SEPs would threaten the lives of residents who suffer from addiction and do not have access to sterile needles.

It is important that we do not dehumanize sufferers of addiction and understand the nature of drug use across demographics and communities. The wellbeing of every person in a community is important, and that is what we stand for at Windward Way.

Syringe exchange programs lead to:

  • Increased cleaning of used needles
  • Decreased sharing of needles
  • Fewer instances of risky sexual behavior
  • Higher likelihood of referrals to drug abuse treatment
  • A future where there is less drug abuse

The proven effectiveness of syringe exchange programs in preventing the spread of HIV and other infections means that attention to these issues must be stressed by local community members in reaching as many people as possible and promoting education, treatment, and materials, including bleach, alcohol pads, and condoms.

Let’s keep our communities clean and make sure safe syringe exchange is taking place. The more dialogue there is about the benefits and realities of drug abuse and needle exchanges, the more knowledge the public will have. The concerns about the potential negative effects of needle exchange and services such as bleach distribution are important to take into account and a necessary step in tackling the drug epidemic and strengthening public health and prevention strategies.

If you or someone you love is seeking treatment for drug abuse, we can help. Contact us now so we can help you or a loved one overcome addiction by providing community, connection, and purpose. Give us a call at 855-491-7694.