Safer Sharps for Heroin and Opiate Users

As heroin and opiate abuse sweeps the nation, nowhere is it as insidious as the small towns in Maine. The recipe of cheaper heroin and rising prices for already expensive opiate tablets has brought many users to heroin in Maine.

Between 2010 and 2015, Maine’s rate of residents requesting treatment from 110 citizens to 4051 in 2015. Death due to heroin overdose rose from 7 in 2009 to 154 in 2015.

The city of Portland has an initiative called “Sharps Secure” where locked containers are positioned around the city – in parks and other places known for drug users in order to facilitate safe sharps removal. These boxes have slots which the user would deposit their used syringes. It is expected that the majority of the users of these boxes will be good Samaritans who clean the areas and parks. Currently, there are boxes located in Deering Oaks, Hyde Heights, Peppermint Park, and Four Ponds.

sharps for heroin users

City workers trained in the collection of sharps, which can transmit infectious diseases, use and empty the boxes into secure medical waste disposal facilities.

Not long ago, police and park workers began hearing more and more complaints about the amount of medical waste – particularly syringes – was being found in public areas – namely a popular ravine and wading pool in Portland.

Many countries in Europe have government-sponsored needle exchange programs, and some US cities like San Francisco who operate on volunteerism alone. This gives addicts an incentive for disposing of their spent needles when they can receive a bit of medical care and some fresh, sterile syringes.

A deep study by the World Health Organization found that the needle syringe exchange programs greatly reduced the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users. The AMA also took a strong position in favor of these exchanges, especially when coupled with counselling.

sharps for heroin users pic

The Danish initiative has been in place since 1986. The number of syringes given out and taken in by the programs are estimated to be in excess of what is necessary. These facilities are cost-effective and effective in lessening the amount of communicable diseases in their country, and freeing up this healthcare money that would ordinarily be spent on dying addicts with HIV or Hepatitis could be spent on other aspects of healthcare in Denmark.

The services offered in Denmark are some of the most generous in the world, simply requiring addicts to bring in their needles and receiving counseling, medical treatment, and in some cases accommodations.

Switzerland is another country which, surprisingly, has had a very liberal stance on heroin and other IV users since the 1980s when an abandoned rail shed was converted into a users paradise. It would seem strange to welcome all the users in Zurich to inject drugs in a train shed, but the program has proven to be very effective in not only helping the addicts receive clean needles and therapy, but also to make sure the used syringes don’t wind up on the streets of the city and parks where children play.



Leave a Reply