Local view: Syringe-exchange programs lead to improved community healthRecently, Duluth’s Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment agreed to host a syringe-exchange program sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health through the Rural AIDS Action Network.
By: Gary Olson, Duluth News Tribune
Recently, Duluth’s Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment agreed to host a syringe-exchange program sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health through the Rural AIDS Action Network. The purpose was to reduce the spread of infectious disease caused by sharing contaminated syringes. The powerful impact of such programs has been thoroughly documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
The News Tribune’s Aug. 26 story, “Concern arises over needle-swap clinic in downtown Duluth,” and Sept. 5 story, “No needle exchange for downtown Duluth,” reported the program’s inception. Judging from some of the reactions and responses of public officials in both stories, there clearly is a need for more information about these programs and the benefits they have for communities.
The CDC reports that syringe-exchange programs have been shown to be an effective way to link some hard-to-reach intravenous drug users with important public-health services, including screening and treatment for tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease. With referrals to substance-abuse treatment, these programs can help drug users stop.
Government studies, including a Surgeon General report, show syringe-exchange programs do not encourage drug use among program participants or the recruitment of first-time drug users. A CDC report further states, “An impressive body of evidence suggests powerful effects from needle exchange programs. … Studies show reduction in risk behavior as high as 80 (percent) with estimates of a 30 (percent) or greater reduction of HIV in (intravenous drug users).”
The police chief of Portland, Ore., stated syringe exchanges there “helped protect law enforcement and first responders from injuries caused by syringes during body searches or rescue operations.”
The medical cost of treating a single HIV infection is estimated at $190,000. Women who become infected with HIV through the sharing of syringes or by having sex with an infected intravenous drug user also can transmit the virus to their babies before or during birth and through breastfeeding. Hepatitis C also is a major public-health concern and can be transmitted through shared syringes.
As the Sept. 5 story stated, the landlord at 26 E. Superior St. asked that we with the Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment not host the program there. So we delayed the start of the program and are looking for another location. The advantage of the proposed location was walk-in access to our treatment programs and an opportunity to engage an at-risk population.
As a community-based agency, we have a responsibility to the community as a whole. Our commitment is to reduce the harmful impact of untreated addiction on the community as a whole. By ensuring space is available to the Rural AIDS Action Network for a syringe-exchange program, we believe we are being true to that substantial responsibility.
Gary Olson is executive director of the Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment (cadt.org) in Duluth.