Our View: Recent study shows syringe exchanges are valuable, vital

Published 10:42 am Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Clark County was one of three counties included in a recent study highlighting syringe exchange programs’ vital role in helping those with substance use disorders get clean.

Many in Clark, including this newspaper, have long believed the syringe exchange program is one of many right choices being made to address substance abuse, help people get clean and lead productive lives. Now a new study published last month has found significant evidence that backs up our beliefs.

The study published in the Journal of Rural Health studied three Kentucky counties — Clark, Knox and Owsley — with syringe exchanges.

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It found some drug users who utilized the local exchange programs were more likely to enter treatment for their drug use.

The study doesn’t claim syringe exchanges are a cure-all, nor should it. Substance abuse is always a complex problem that requires a different set of solutions for each individual.

However, it does find syringe exchanges “may play an important role in supporting confidence and motivation to change substance use behaviors.”

The study also indicated syringe exchanges “may be critical venues for integration and expansion of prevention, health promotion and treatment linkage services for this underserved population.”

Of the 186 participants in the study, about 45 percent had used a syringe exchange program more than six times in the last six months. Almost 70 percent said quitting or reducing their substance use was very important. Less than half had high confidence in their ability to ever quit or reduce their substance use.

Building confidence among drug users so that they can kick the habit is important. The study found individual drug users’ confidence levels played a significant role in how successful they were in quitting their drug use.

Syringe exchange programs help build confidence by bringing drug users’ bad habits out of the shadows and showing them there are other options. Hope can be a mighty confidence builder. Community members can help build hope and confidence, too, by refusing to stigmatize or belittle people with addiction problems and instead of offering them compassionate support and encouragement.

The study also found concerning evidence that drug users who have injected methamphetamine did not see the same boost in success as users of other drugs, such as heroin. With methamphetamine use back on the rise now, that could turn into a big problem.

The lack of effectiveness for meth users “reflects a lack of treatment services designed for methamphetamine users, inadequate treatment capacity, as well as the lack of effective medication-assisted treatment for methamphetamine use,” according to the study.

Providing better treatment for meth users “appears critical” to the success of syringe exchanges, the study’s authors wrote.

We think the study broadly shows syringe exchange programs can be helpful in the long run — if properly run and if administrators are good at identifying and responding to the changing needs of the exchanges’ clients.