Posted by: Mothers Against Teen Violence | April 20, 2010

Harm Reduction

I want to begin with a big HOWDY to the Texas A&M University students whom I met recently during the Student Conference on Latino Affairs. It was a real pleasure to attend their conference and share our work with them. And I want to welcome them to the Project RETHINK Network.

I have just finished reading Dr. Gabor Mate’s bestselling book entitled In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction. There is so much excellent information in this book, especially for someone (like me) who has no first-hand experience or understanding of addiction. It would be interesting to know how much Texas legislators—the people responsible for making laws that directly impact addicted citizens’ lives—actually understand about the causes of addition and how familiar they are with the most recent research…But I digress…

As we continue to RETHINK drug policy, we understand that harm reduction – an approach that reduces the harm caused by addiction—is an important consideration in the context of public health policy.

As Dr. Mate suggests, syringe exchange programs (SEPs) are an important harm reduction strategy. SEPs ensure that injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injection drugs have access to sterile syringes and proved a means to safely dispose of used syringes. In addiction, SEPs often provide a range of preventive health services, referrals to substance abuse treatment, and mental health services.

Studies show that SEPs do not encourage drug abuse and that drug users will use sterile syringes if they can obtain them. Seven major government-funded reports agree that drug use does not increase with access to sterile syringes.

The National Institutes of Health indicates that an impressive body of research has shown a reduction in risk behavior as high as 80%, with estimates of a 30% or greater reduction of HIV as a result of needle exchange programs.

Finally, these programs are cost-effective. At 97 cents per syringe, the cost to prevent a case of HIV has been calculated at $4,000 to $12,000, compared to $190,000 to treat a person infected with HIV.

Considering the benefits, the question becomes: Why is Texas the only state in America without a syringe exchange program?

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