The mode of transmission of HIV has been changing over the last decade or so. Although there are still many individuals who contract HIV through sexual contact, the fastest growing mode of transmission is the sharing of infected needles by intravenous drug users.
Those addicted to injectable drugs usually self-inject between 5 to 8 times per day. Since it is illegal in many locales to own a syringe without a prescription for a legal drug, clean needles are in short supply among addicts.
Throughout the country local groups have sponsored syringe exchange programs to insure that addicts do not use infected needles for their drug use. There are many tangible benefits to these programs:
1. Studies show that addicts prefer to use clean needles and thus will exchange used needles for them, cutting down on use of infected syringes and lowering the spread of disease;
2. Exchange programs assure safe disposal of hazardous biomedical waste, a public health hazard;
3. Street-based syringe exchange programs cause a sub-group of society to come into regular contact with health care workers who can help monitor and direct addicts toward already available social services, including drug rehabilitation.
4. The recent articles published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, The International Journal of Addiction and Office of the Surgeon General the have concluded that these programs have the potential to hold down rates of infection. They also offer some salutary effect on addicts themselves by bringing them into contact with representatives of mainstream society;
Yet these programs are under attack from those who believe that SEP’s simply perpetuate addiction. We are all agreed that drug rehabilitation is the best way to cut down on infection by used or dirty needles. That goal is unrealistic, however, given the lack of contact with the population of addicted persons and the shortage of affordable drug treatment facilities.
To do nothing is to watch the HIV infected population grow along with a significant risk to the rest of society. We teach “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor, I am Adonai” (Lev.19.16b). We do not stand by the blood of neighbors who are at risk for infection from contaminated needles
that are not disposed of properly. But we also do not stand idly by the blood of neighbors who suffer simply because they are addicts.
WE, THE CCAR, THEREFORE RESOLVE:
1. to advocate for the establishment of SEP’s to be implemented under the authority of County Health Departments;
2. to protest publicly in places where such programs exist but are under political attack;
3. to use our pulpits, offices and classrooms to increase awareness on this matter, using already existing materials from the UAHC and/or local AIDS Task Forces
4. to urge local governments to allocate more funds so that rehabilitation from drug addiction may become a reality for the many who want it but cannot afford it;
5. to urge the Federal Government to allocate more money to HIV/AIDS research in general and SEP’s in particular in order to make clean needle exchange programs financially possible wherever they are needed.