Monday, November 9, 2009

Needle Exchanges

Needle exchanges are programs funded by cities that provide clean syringes to IV drug users in exchange for dirty ones returned by users. These programs aim to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

The exchanges are an awkward use of government funds: they appear to condone an activity that is both illegal and regard by some members of society as immoral. Yet exchanges plausibly save lives of drug users and others by reducing the spread of disease.

As further illustration of the policy dilemmas created by needle exchanges, consider this:

A bill working its way through Congress would lift a ban of more than 20 years on using federal money for needle exchange programs. But the bill would also ban federally financed exchanges from being within 1,000 feet of a school, park, library, college, video arcade or any place children might gather — a provision that would apply to a majority of the country’s approximately 200 exchanges.

So what's the resolution? A small step is to legalize syringes in those states that currently ban them. No evidence suggests that drug use is higher due to legal availability of syringes.

The better step is to legalize drugs. That would mean significantly cheaper drugs, so the incentive to inject - which provides a big bang for the buck - would diminish substantially. For users who still wanted to inject, a legalized market would provide drugs packaged with disposable syringes, thereby minimizing any incentive to share needles.

18 comments:

Painlord2k said...

Letting the syringes to be sold in drugstores without prescriptions would be a little first step. This happen already in Italy and other countries.

Viking said...

Ironically, legalising hard drugs like heroin rather than soft ones like weed might have a better social impact as you describe above. Very few users will begin their drug careers with heroin, and so there is no moral issue in terms of 'encouraging' drug use, and at the same time one of the more destructive elements in society is legalised and regulated. excellent post.

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