Needle exchange good for public health

| November 12, 2015

If I were to walk into a public restroom and find a person prone, unresponsive, with a hypodermic needle in their arm, I would call 911. I hope you would, also.

One could call this response, “enabling.” I am protecting a probable drug user from the consequences of their decisions. After all, I trying to keep this drug user from dying.

I’d call this being a decent human being. I’d also call it being smart about fighting addiction.

I hope our hypothetical, unresponsive, drug user eventually gets clean and stays clean. But keeping that drug user alive takes priority. A dead addict can’t recover.

In October, the Allen County board of health unanimously voted to support a needle exchange program. This program could reduce the rate at which diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C are spread by needle-sharing intravenous drug users. It could prevent those drug-users from spreading to unsuspecting spouses and romantic partners.

I say “could” because this program will need approval by a majority of Allen County’s three commissioners.

Is needle-sharing bad?  Of course it is. This year, needle-sharing contributed to 181 Hoosiers contracted the HIV virus in Southern Indiana. In the first nine months of 2015, Allen County had 270 Hepatitis C cases. This is a significant increase from 2014, 2013 and 2012 which had 12-month totals of 245, 205 and 249, respectively.

Are needle exchanges bad? I don’t think so. I also don’t think it was a bad idea to call 911 for that imaginary, overdosed, drug user. A person’s decision to inject a drug will not hinge on whether they have access to clean, uncontaminated needles. Instead, the needle exchange can be used as a hub to disseminate information about treatment options to a population which is notoriously difficult to identify and locate.

Many of us may have images of what we think drug users look like or what parts of our county they inhabit. A map of Three Rivers Ambulance Authority responses to opiate overdoses shows drug addiction holds no regard for such preconceptions.

“Those people” are our neighbors, and a needle exchange program could benefit all of us.

—Tim Stelle

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Category: Health, Letters, Local, Opinion

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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