Mankind has made great progress in the battle against HIV. Just 25 years ago, those who contracted this disease were unlikely to survive it, but today, thanks to antiretroviral therapy, the drug can be survived and treated. Trials are also underway to produce HIV antibodies that may result in a future vaccine. Still, with all the advances that have been made, the most important is prevention, and below are some ways syringe exchange helps.
What Is Syringe Exchange?
While HIV is still spread primarily through unprotected sex, it is also possible to contract it through needle sharing. Syringes are commonly used to inject drugs directly into the vein, particularly opioids like heroin or morphine. Injection, despite the slight pain, is popular among many drug addicts as it results in a much stronger high than swallowing or inhaling the drug. However, sharing needs is extremely dangerous as it puts the user in contact with blood that could be HIV infected.
Therefore, one technique for lowering HIV spread between drug users is the syringe exchange system, which research has shown to be highly effective. One of the biggest success stories was Indiana, which saw a significant reduction in HIV cases after implementing this program. However, despite the scientific evidence which shows the effectiveness of syringe exchange, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding it which have made it harder to adopt on a larger scale.
Syringe Exchange Misconceptions
Many critics feel that syringe exchange is a harm reduction technique that will encourage drug abuse, but research shows that both in the United States and other nations, this has not occurred. Much of the controversy that surrounds syringe exchange has to do with morality issues. It is believed that issuing clean syringes is somehow condoning a behavior that is immoral.
However, the thing to remember about syringes is that few people use them, unless they are already addicted, and this is a significant distinction since addiction is a medical issue, rather than a moral one. Since the brains of those who are addicted are greatly compromised, their ability to gain control of the situation is reduced. If no treatment options are available to them, most of these people will not be able to stop, which puts them at risk for many hazardous scenarios. Syringe exchange is a component of a prevention system which is quite comprehensive, and it lowers the risk involved with drug injection, preventing the spread of disease like HCV or HIV to people that don’t even use the drugs.
Furthermore, syringe exchange safely incorporates those who inject drugs into the healthcare system, which allows for HIV screening as well as counseling and treatment. When a drug addict’s situation can be correctly addressed, their risk of getting diseases such as HIV and transmitting them is lowered. This phenomenon is referred to as prevention through treatment and failing to implement these programs is irresponsible.