Talking about injection drug use is not comfortable for many people. Yet nearly 7 million U.S. citizens inject drugs every year. For those who suffer from debilitating addictions, our silence is deafening. The majority of injection drug users are infected with either HIV or hepatitis C, both devastating illnesses with life-long consequences. Medically, they are at high risk for overdose and a multitude of diseases. Socially, they face enormous stigma, homelessness and violence. Each of them is someone's family. All of their lives matter.
What is there to be done? The good news is that for decades, both injection drug users and doctors have been advocating for harm reduction, a rational and proven way to reduce infections. The idea is simple: lower the risks associated with using drugs. Doctors use these principles every day in the clinic, such as when they encourage patients to use condoms and birth control. We've learned the hard way that abstinence-based methods actually increase risky sexual activity. By instead providing knowledge and safer-sex supplies, they make the behavior safer. Drug use is no different.
The main example of harm reduction for injection drug users is needle exchange, and like harm reduction in general, it's easy to understand. A needle exchange provides a safe, anonymous way for needle users to throw away old syringes, thus keeping them out of public parks and trash cans, where they may wind up otherwise. Next, needle exchanges provide a way to obtain clean injection supplies, so that clients are protected from disease. These simple operating principles have incredible, proven results among clients: a 33% reduction in the risk of contracting HIV, a 61% reduction in hepatitis B, and a 65% reduction in hepatitis C. If needle exchange was a prescription, it would a blockbuster
Labels: Needle Exchange Orange County Harm Reduction HIV/AIDS Hepatitis C Hepatitis B Public Health Needle Exchange Program Activism Orange County Needle Exchange Program Syringe Exchange