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Congress Lifts Restrictions on Needle Exchange Programs

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Congress Lifts Restrictions on Needle Exchange Programs

A recent move by republicans in Congress lifts restrictions on needle exchange programs. The decision was spurred by an increase in the number of HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis cases linked to intravenous drug use and the heroin epidemic. The change in the hard-nosed stance taken by conservative lawmakers in the past against using federal funds to support the purchase and distribution of needles for injection of illegal drugs was viewed as a partial victory for strong advocates for needle exchange programs.

Studies show programs that provide sterile needles for drug addicts help to reduce health care cost and the risk of infection without increasing drug use.  As such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has historically recommended needle sharing prevention assistance as a way to reduce the spread of drug related infectious diseases.  And, while the repeal still does not allow the allocation of federal funds to be used directly for the purchase of needles and syringes, it now makes provision for staff, rent, transportation and fuel to support these programs.  This benefit needle exchange programs by enabling funds that would otherwise be used for these support services to be channeled into the purchase of needles and syringes for distribution to heroin addicts.

The loosening of this opposition to needle exchange programs was spearheaded by states hit especially hard by heroin use such as Indiana and Kentucky.  The drive to repeal the ban was considered a significant strategy to temper the rise in heroin use and the accompanying health crisis.  In addition to HIV/AIDS reduction, lifting of this long standing ban can help to minimize the spread of other drug related diseases such as viral Hepatitis, tuberculosis and a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). This support will also enable needle exchange facilitators greater opportunity encourage more drug abusers to seek and receive treatment for heroin and other substance addictions.  

Other changes under consideration relative to government spending for health issues could now allow for more federal grant money to be used to support state and local drug treatment programs.  According to Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition commented that the lift in restrictions in needle exchange program may be an indication that congress is listening.  He also stated that he cautiously consider this shift as a “win”.  

High Rate of Overdose Deaths 

The surge in overdose deaths coupled with widespread incidents of HIV and Hepatitis continues to drive the demand to implement programs to save lives.  It has also opened the way for more research and the development of new pharmacological interventions for people battling heroin addiction. In addition to reducing needle sharing among addicts, which is the primary cause of disease transmission, it is now possible to reverse heroin overdose, diminish withdrawal symptoms, control cravings and help to support sobriety maintenance efforts for patients in recovery.

The deadly alliance between prescription drugs and heroin has contributed to the drug epidemic raging across the country. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at least 50% of heroin abusers surveyed stated that they initially abused prescription drugs.  While the main goal of needle sharing programs are to diminish the spread of infectious diseases, the ultimate goal is to help people trapped in the cycles addiction to get the care they need to stop habituated drug abuse.

Getting Drug Treatment 

Drug treatment provides a comprehensive continuum of care that goes beyond the temporary halting of daily drug use to include:

  • Medically supervised detox procedures to alleviate withdrawal symptoms that typically cause substance abusers to revert to their drug use habits.  
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other therapeutic practices that help to change addictive patterns of behavior.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment programs to address underlying mental disorders that perpetuate addiction.  
  • Relapse Prevention education and training.
  • Aftercare planning.

The needle exchange program repeal was passed quietly towards the end of 2015.  The CDC also published a statement to the effect that needle exchange programs are now able to receive federal funds. However, as many advocates for this program suggest, the fight is not over. The drive to provide safe injection facilities, free clean syringes and make the pursuit of treatment for addiction more accessible is an ongoing one.   

If you or someone you care about is in need of drug treatment, contact rehab and treatment centers for help today. Addiction specialists can help you find the treatment program that works best for you or your loved one. 

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