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Why giving addicts syringes makes sense

At a recent meeting of our local heroin task force, a young, recovered addict – who is a member of the task force – raised eyebrows when he explained how he helps addicts who are still shooting heroin.

“I tell them, never use alone, never lock the bathroom door, do a test shot.”Drug Abuse With People Sharing The Same Syringe

The other task force members, mostly mid-career public officials, first responders, cops and non-profit types said nothing. Someone changed the topic – quick.

No one wanted to talk about harm reduction – controversial initiatives that promote safe drug use rather than abstinence. The idea is to meet addicts where they are in their addiction. No judgment. No preaching. No trying to get them to quit.

Just keep them alive long enough until they want to get clean.

Harm reduction programs promote needle exchanges, naloxone training and tips on how to use safely – like, don’t use alone and never lock the bathroom door. And yes, they also provide information about how and where they can get help if they decide they want to quit.

Why there isn’t more concern about the opioid epidemic is stunning. Opioid overdoses take a life every 19 minutes. Carfentanil – a drug banned as a weapon under the international Chemical Weapons Convention – is being peddled on the street as heroin.

What is wrong with us?

To put a dent in this epidemic – which I believe is now a pandemic – is going to require us to do things we don’t like and harm reduction is one of them. If you can’t muster compassion for addicts, how about some concern for your wallet.

You may believe it is morally reprehensible to spend tax-dollars on clean syringes for addicts but do you not realize the incalculable tax-dollars tax-dollars spent on treating uninsured addicts who contract HIV and hepatitis C from using dirty needles?

Teaching addicts how to safely use drugs or providing safe, supervised injection sites may seem counterintuitive and flat-out wrong but do you realize how much more we spend on police and paramedics who respond to overdose calls and medical examiners who must perform autopsies?

There are people who secretly believe that addicts get what they deserve. To them, overdose deaths are a form of social Darwinism that purges the weak among us. I won’t even try to convince you folks that harm reduction works. Your beliefs are too sick and twisted to waste my time on.

To the rest of us, we must realize that drastic times call for drastic measures – and ways of thinking. This epidemic is getting worse. No one knows how bad it will get but we do know that what we have done so far is has not worked. More tears will be shed and more tax-dollars spent.

Let’s not just think outside the box – let’s act outside the box. Let’s give harm reduction a chance.





Why giving addicts syringes makes sense

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2016). Why giving addicts syringes makes sense. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Dec 2016
Published on All rights reserved.