Regarding “To Fear or Not to Fear: A Little Understanding Can Go a Long Way in West Asheville,” by Shannon Spencer [Mountain Xpress, Nov. 21]:
Dayton, Ohio, has reduced overdose deaths by 54 percent over the last 12 months. For the various reasons, see “The Treatment Gap: This City’s Overdose Deaths Have Plunged. Can Others Learn From It?” The New York Times, Nov. 25 [avl.mx/5g7].
Included: “(Police) Chief Biehl was fully supportive of the city’s decision to set up a syringe exchange in 2014. Research has consistently found that such programs, which allow people who inject drugs to trade dirty needles for clean ones, prevent deaths related to infections like HIV, hepatitis C and endocarditis.” Chief Biehl goes on to say that these various initiatives “are absolutely consistent with our public mission to save lives.”
I applaud Shannon Spencer’s efforts to save lives.
— Robert Counce
5 thoughts on “Letter: Syringe exchanges save lives”
The Times article describes a coordinated effort by local and state authorities; with significant financial resources from Medicaid expansion (not available in NC); the direct involvement of local medical authorities; working with local police; greatly expanded availability of treatment in coordination with the handing out of needles, Narcan, etc.; and regulation and approval of the time and place of the provision of these services by local government.
I can see making the effort to advocate for similar efforts in NC and Asheville and writing a letter to that effect. However, what the Times article clearly does not describe or advocate, is a small group of well intentioned but ultimately misled people, most of whom have little to no real expertise or experience dealing with the problem of drug addiction, taking a “stick-in-the-eye” approach to the rest of the community, deciding on their own to hand out needles in an established and stable neighborhood, without due consideration of the direct and unanticipated consequences for the residents and businesses of the area, without any of the formal institutional and governmental support described in Dayton — and then setting themselves up as sole, self-righteous arbiters of what needs to be done about the problems of drug addiction.
Established and stable communities? That sounds like a dog whistle. Want to hear an amazing statistic from the CDC? Rates of HIV attributed to injection drug use are 54% higher for the south than the rest of the country. The areas hardest hit are in historically “low risk” areas like those stable and established areas you refer to (i.e., white and middle to upper class). The reason? People get addicted to opioids. That is not a moral failing, that is a fact. It is backed by science and statistics. When people get addicted, they often graduate to cheaper and more effective means of using, i.e. needles. Another statistic per the CDC; 40% of new injection drug users share needles. That’s spreading disease right there. How many of those stable and established residents do you actually know? One of the scariest things about the opioid epidemic is its’s scope. These users ARE your neighbors…if not now, someday maybe. Needle exchanges aren’t a solution for drug use but they do reduce the harm it can cause. By exchanging a dirty needle, the person who injects drugs gets a clean one. This makes dirty needles a commodity and actually reduces dirty needle litter. And law enforcement officers are unequivocally involved and behind the initiatives. The people who provide these services aren’t any more self-righteous than any other entity with a beating heart and a working mind. Stigmatizing drug use is ineffective and counterproductive. Do you want to make neighborhoods better? How about ensuring their residents are healthy and treated with dignity.
It is both incorrect and dishonest to suggest that because I am pointedly critical of some aspects of the activity at 610 Haywood, that I oppose the existence of such programs. Nowhere in my comment do I in any way imply that authorized and professionally supervised programs which hand out needles do not likely have a positive impact on limiting the spread of disease. In fact, I suggest that efforts more in line with what has taken place in Dayton be advocated. Had the letter writer simply made that case, I would have offered a much more supportive comment.
Efforts such as those described in Dayton would stand in stark contrast to what plays out at 610 Haywood, where a small group of self-appointed individuals, most of whom admit they have no expertise, professional background, or experience, decided on their own to provide such services, and do so without the cooperation or approval of health authorities and other organizations who do have the expertise, without the approval and support of local government and law enforcement, and without due consideration of the consequences for most of the core stake holders in the neighborhood. What other medical or other critical services, what other enterprises in general, are permitted to operate in this fashion?
So, yes — when people wrap themselves in the cloak of doing good works, and use that to justify their actions against any and all criticism of how they are going about these efforts, and lump anyone who in any way opposes aspects of their program as uncaring, greedy, uninformed, etc. — then yes, I consider that self-righteous. It is also counter productive, quixotic, and politically tone deaf.
Grace, thanks for putting things into perspective with those statistics! I honestly have no idea where the commenter above gets their information because The Steady Collective works directly with medical professionals and is widely supported by the local medical establishment (see “Why we’re supporting Narcan, needle exchange program in Asheville”, a collective statement by MAHEC physicians in the 9/21/18 edition of the Citizen-Times). Far from being a bunch of inexperienced know-nothings, volunteers are folks with deep knowledge of the overdose crisis and the nonprofit has received funding and support from the Buncombe County Health Department. The outreach event we host at Firestorm Books & Coffee on Tuesdays is staffed by a registered nurse who is also a Steady Collective board member. For additional, factual information on Steady and the local context, please see our post at http://bit.ly/needlesonhaywood.
Pretty sure drug addicts do not care about syringe exchange. That’s definitely not high up on their priority list when trying to get high. I also doubt that any addicts uses drugs and then says to themselves, “Hey, where’s the closest suringe disposal site? I’d like to properly dispose of this syringe so nobody gets hurt.” No, they just throw it on the ground and move on.