One of the most controversial steps that have been taken to help with America’s overdose and drug addiction problems, especially those addicted to opioids, are safe injection sites and needle exchanges. Their primary purpose is to have people on standby who can monitor people injecting and prevent overdose as well as keep infectious and potentially deadly diseases such as HIV and AIDS, which are blood borne pathogens, from spreading creating a secondary health hazard. Opponents of the services, available in many states and cities, often criticize them as enabling addicts to continue abuse. Two sites in Seattle hope to change that perception by offering anti-addiction drugs to heroin users which work to chemically prevent the effects of withdrawal in addicts that contributes to the addiction to begin with.
The drug, Buprenorphine, is a recently developed drug that reduces cravings and suppresses some physical withdrawal symptoms. It is said to reduce overdose deaths by 50 percent due in large part to its primary features and use; addicts will take less opioids they’re addicted to as a result of feeling less cravings to do so, reducing chances of overdose or death. Two sites that have begun providing this drug cannot keep up with the demand. In a recent survey of users at injection sites by Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, over 75 percent indicated they want to quit using drugs and that if a counter-agent was available they would want to use it.
Thus far, the demand for the drug at places like Belltown Public Health Syringe Exchange has far outpaced the availability of the drug.
“I can’t even tell you the percentage of people who want these services because we know we can’t even meet the demand yet,” Banta-Green noted.
Many people addicted to opioids aren’t even aware of the kinds of treatments that are on offer, are afraid of stigma of going into treatment, or have some other perception about the healthcare and treatment options which discourage them from going. With the initial availability of Buprenorphine at needle exchanges showing that people, when left to be unjudged and placed in front of the option to, will choose treatment over their addiction. With the right approach and social support, it’s clear that the public fight against opioid addiction is winnable, but it’s now important to further study the long term impact as the approaches to fight the epidemic will continue to evolve. Effective treatment still rests within professional help and addiction helplines.
If you or anyone you know might need drug use help or addiction help for families in Seattle, call Northbound at 866-311-0003 to speak with a professional counselor confidentially about diagnosis and treatment options.