Columnist: SF’s ‘Needle Access’ Is a Disaster

San Francisco needles (Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC / cropped)
Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC / cropped

San Francisco’s needle exchange program, which began in 1988 in an attempt to prevent, reduce and eventually thwart the spread of HIV among users, has spiraled out of control and into a public health disaster for inhabitants of the burgeoning city.

That’s according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Debra J. Saunders, who noted that a successful “needle exchange” to prevent HIV had become a messy, and dangerous, “needle access” program in which addicts felt no need to clean up after themselves.

“With record complaints about dirty needles [on the streets of San Francisco], it seems as if, in a bid to protect the most self-destructive elements in society, San Francisco has put everyone else’s health at risk by eliminating the exchange half of the bargain,” she writes.

“In short, taxpayers get to fund needle giveaways for habitual offenders, pay to clean up after them, and learn to navigate in a landscape with needle litter–in the cause of public health.”

The program started off as an attempt to reduce the number of “dirty needles” being passed between drug users by handing in a bundle of their used needles for new ones in a one-for-one exchange program.

Saunders notes that the program has moved in a different direction, which now seems to be enabling users to further their drug habits. Additionally, the lack of discretion paid to proper disposal of potentially-lethal needles has earned San Francisco the nickname “needle city” as users dispose of them on the streets and sidewalks.

The program’s website states that from its founding in 1988, it “provided clean syringes in exchange for dirty ones, as well as other safer injection supplies such as bleach, cotton, and alcohol wipes. It also offered condoms and referrals to drug treatment programs and social services.” It is run by a group of 70 volunteers.

Today, users do not need to turn in needles to obtain new ones. As Saunders explains, “syringe access” centers provide users with a “starter kit” of 20 needles, which are presented to them in a discreet plain brown bag.

San Francisco reportedly gave away 2.4 million syringes last year.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.


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