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Police Forum Report Says Syringe Exchange Encourages Drug Treatment, Lowers Injury and Disease

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Just when it seems like law enforcement will never buy into the idea of syringe exchange as a tool to reduce disease and prevent needle-stick injury, someone shows up to give hope. A recent conference hosted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing, covered such important topics as combatting the overdose epidemic, law enforcement use of naloxone, and how to respond to changing attitudes towards marijuana. But they also talked about syringe exchange - most specifically, how syringe exchange programs are proven to help people get into drug treatment, keep dirty needles off the streets, lower the transmission of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C, and protect officers from injury.

The following is a speech given by Associate Professor Mary Beth Levin, Georgetown University School of Medicine at the conference on April 16, 2014 in Washington DC:

"Needle Exchange" Programs Promote Drug Treatment

"I'd like to talk for a minute about syringe services programs, also known as needle exchanges. Currently there are over 200 programs in 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. You can't have a syringe services program without law enforcement support, but sometimes we see law enforcement is a little reluctant. I'd like to address some of the common misunderstandings.

"One of the misperceptions about syringe services programs is that they increase drug use. We find that they actually decrease drug use. In New Jersey, 22 percent of clients at the state's five syringe services programs have entered treatment. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that syringe services programs were 25 percent more successful than the other programs they funded at getting people into treatment.
Syringe services programs serve as a bridge to drug treatment, and do a better job of getting people into treatment, than other programs working in the same field.

"Another misunderstanding is that they increase the number of used needles on the street. They actually decrease the number of needles. One of the services offered by syringe services programs is safe disposal of used syringes. When I worked in the county health department in Santa Cruz, California, we would receive a call at least once a week from a parent whose child had encountered a used syringe in a public space. Once we implemented a syringe services program, we stopped receiving those calls.

"Law enforcement officers across the country have expressed concern about needle-stick inju- ries, which can often occur during pat-downs or searches. After implementing a syringe services program in Connecticut, we found that the number of needle stick injuries experienced by law enforcement in the program's jurisdiction decreased by two-thirds.

"Syringe services programs prevent HIV and viral hepatitis, get people into drug treatment, and protect law enforcement and others who may encounter syringes on the street. In places that have implemented programs, we see law enforcement get behind it, because it protects them and protects their communities."

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