The opioid epidemic in the United States has increased the need for needle-exchange programs. There are about 200 needle-exchange programs in 33 states and the District of Columbia, according to the North American Syringe Exchange Network. It has become clear that the opioid crisis does not discriminate when it comes to state borders, which means that states without needle-exchange programs are facing the potential spread of infectious diseases.
Last Thursday, Michael Botticelli, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, came out in favor of needle-exchange programs, the Associated Press reports. Botticelli believes that such programs are effective grassroots initiatives to combat the spread of infectious disease and divert opioid abusers towards treatment.
Needle-exchange programs offer communities a unique forum, allowing outreach substance use disorder counselors the ability to speak with users about recovery.
“They’ve been demonstrated to reduce not only infectious disease but also create an opportunity for people to get the care and provide a transition into treatment for people in the community,” said Botticelli.
While critics argue that needle-exchange programs sanction drug use, discouraging people from seeking treatment, the reality is quite different. People are going to abuse drugs in harmful ways regardless of whether or not they have access to clean needles. Supporters of these types of programs believe they not only reduce disease transmission, but also connect IV drug users with treatment programs.
The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), invited Botticelli to visit northern Kentucky, which is one of the areas hardest hit by heroin addiction. In Kentucky, overdose deaths have outpaced fatalities from motor vehicle crashes, according to the article.
While McConnell is a staunch opponent of the Obama administration, he contends that curbing drug abuse is a bipartisan problem. “This is an area where there is no partisan difference,” said McConnell. “We’re all in this together.”