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Needle Exchange Policy’s Benefits and Limitations


The increase in blood-borne viruses and diseases in recent times has raised concerns about how this epidemic can be controlled to save humanity from suffering. One of the corrective measures established for this purpose is the needle exchange program. The needle exchange social policy focuses on spreading health education, as well as health promotion services to drug users who take drugs intravenously (Kubi para. 1). This category of drug users is at a higher risk of contracting blood-borne viruses. This paper explores the needle exchange policy in general. The article analyzes the policy’s benefits, disadvantages, and provides a suggestion for possible changes that can improve the policy.

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Policy Definition and Rationale

The needle exchange policy is a program that seeks to provide injection equipment, including syringes, to injecting drug users (IDU). The policy seeks to avert the spread of blood-borne viruses that are likely to be spread by the sharing of needles and syringes among the drug users (Strathdee and Vlahov para. 2). The intravenous (IV) drug users are provided with clean and sterile syringes by the government, and the already used equipment is collected for disposal. The program was first introduced towards the end of the 1980s in the US, particularly in New York City, Oregon, California, and Washington (Kubi para 1).

The program focuses more of its attention on the marginalized communities in the US. These communities might not be in a position to afford syringes and needles for use. Drug users in these communities share the equipment amongst themselves, thereby increasing their likelihood of contracting deadly viruses like HIV and Hepatitis B viruses. The policy seeks to subsidize the costs of the equipment to make it easily affordable for the users or provide the equipment free of charge (Strathdee and Vlahov para 4).

Major Arguments for the use of the policy

The needle exchange policy helps in curbing the spread of viruses that have no cure. Although the drug users are at a higher risk of contracting the deadly viruses, the situation affects the whole society because it affects the overall health situation. The government can’t achieve its development agenda when a section of the society is continually sick from diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B. The sick members of the society, especially the relatively young and youthful members, need to inject their energy into working for various development projects, instead of laying weak in hospitals from ailments that would have been averted (Bowen 124).

The program helps in reducing government expenditure, especially on health matters. Curbing the spread of these deadly viruses through the needle exchange program maintains the numbers of victims at very low levels, or even eliminates infections. The number of patients will grow if the government ignores such a program because more drug users will share their equipment and witness the increased spread of blood-borne viruses (Loff and Wodak 1403). Eventually, the government will still be required to help in treating the victims using resources to buy drugs and pay health workers. This is an expensive venture compared to the few resources that are spent on sustaining the program. Spending a lot of resources on treating a sick society slows down economic development because the resources that would have been channeled to development projects are redirected towards treating the sick.

The policy enhances the safety of the rest of the society by ensuring that disposal of the needles is done rightfully. While only drug users may seem to be at risk from their activities, other members of the society who do not necessarily drug users can also suffer from the irresponsible disposal of the syringes and needles after use. The safety of the entire society is guaranteed in terms of safe disposal of the syringes when it gets involved in collecting the used equipment in return for new ones (Delgado 176).

Arguments against Use of the Policy

The exchange program helps in promoting drug use in society, instead of curbing the menace. The drug addicts feel as if the vice they indulge in is supported by society because the government is ready and willing to offer syringes and needles free of charge. The government is promoting drug use, to some extent, by offering to meet the costs on behalf of the drug addicts, instead of the government thinking about eradicating the menace (Bowen 130).

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There is no tangible evidence to prove that the needle exchange program has helped in reducing HIV infection and spread. The opponents of this policy cite that drug addicts continue with their highly reckless behaviors. The behaviors put the drug users at risk of contracting deadly viruses. In other words, the needle exchange program has failed to emphasize the need and importance of strict health practices among drug users (Krisberg 4).

The needle exchange program shifts the attention away from addressing the problem of drug addiction by focusing a lot of emphasis on curbing the spread of blood-borne viruses and health conditions. The issue of drug use is equally harmful and requires close attention. However, it is still essential for any society to limit the spread of deadly viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B. These infections lower the productivity of society. Attempting to curb the spread of the diseases while failing to address drug use, which is among the biggest causes of the menace, leaves the society vulnerable to the problem.

Buying syringes and needles and distributing them to drug users free of charge amounts to misuse of taxpayers’ money without seeking their permission (Delgado 173). The taxpayers need to see their money being channeled towards developing public amenities and improving the overall service quality and delivery. Thus, the authorities do a disservice to the taxpayers by using the taxpayers’ money to help sustain such a program. Drug users, instead, must be responsible enough and use their resources to acquire equipment and keep them free from contracting deadly diseases out of sharing syringes and needles.

Personal View of the Program

The needle exchange policy is a wrong idea that does not help the society to control any menace. Instead, it only helps in promoting a vice that puts more people at risk. While this program insists on seeking to control the spread of viruses and diseases, it overlooks an equally emotive area of drugs and their use. The policy ascribes some moral basis on a menace that lacks a moral standing whatsoever. Drug addicts will not quit the behavior when they notice that a program has been introduced to subsidize its cost. Instead, they get the moral backing out of such programs and continue with the practice of drug abuse, instead of seeking for ways to quit.

More efforts and support need to be put into drug rehabilitation programs and centers. This will be more comprehensive in curbing the menace altogether, instead of spending resources to acquire syringes and needles for addicts. There will be no need for the government to buy syringes and needles in the hope of supplying them to the users if more drug addicts are helped to quit the menace. More people will be sensible enough to the actual dangers that they subject themselves to when they share the equipment. More people will, therefore, take the initiative to protect themselves from contracting blood-borne viruses.

Few people, if any, will be available to indulge in drugs in case a more comprehensive program is established. This is unlike the situation at present, where more efforts are being channeled towards curbing the spread of viruses through the sharing of needles, instead of addressing the reason why people want to share the needles in the first place.


The needle exchange policy is focused on addressing the spread of viruses that are mainly spread through the sharing of syringes and needles. The policy concerns itself more with drug addicts, particularly those who hail from marginalized communities. The program is effective, given that it supplies the equipment mostly used by drug addicts free of charge or at subsidized costs. These supplies include needles and syringes. This, in turn, eradicates the practice of sharing of such equipment. However, the program does not address the issue of ending drug use. Instead, more drug users look at the policy as one that supports their activities. This policy should be scrapped altogether, and efforts should be channeled towards improving and enhancing drug rehabilitation programs. This will address the problem of drug abuse and eliminate the need for people to share needles and syringes at the same time.

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Works Cited

Bowen, Elizabeth A. “Clean Needles and Bad Blood: Needle Exchange as Morality Policy.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 39.2 (2012): 121-141. Print.

Delgado, Cheryl. “Evaluation of Needle Exchange Programs.” Public Health Nursing 21.2 (2004): 171-178. Print.

Krisberg, Kim. “Funding Ban Repeal a Step Forward for Needle Exchange. (Cover Story).” Nation’s Health 40.2 (2010): 1-13. Print.

Kubi, Rachel. “Syringe Exchange: Policy and Politics”. Yale Journal of Medicine & Law. 8.2 (2012). Web.

Loff, Bebe, and Alex Wodak. “Needle Exchange Programmes Beneficial in Australia.” Lancet 360.9343 (2002): 1403-1403. Print.

Strathdee, Steffanie A. and David Vlahov. “The Effectiveness of Needle Exchange Programs: A Review of the Science and Policy.” AIDScience 1.16 (2001). Web.

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