As the recent campus production of “Angels in America: Millenium Approaches” reminds us, AIDS remains a prominent social issue. HIV/AIDS must be addressed more diligently by Americans, through both awareness, prevention methods and federally funded programming.
Texas’ s statistics bode ill, ranking in the top ten for new infections in 2006, landing at nearly 3,000 reported cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To be frank about it, college kids are not exactly notorious for the safest sexual or drug use practices, and it is a risk everybody faces every day.
HIV/AIDS can be transferred in several different ways – sexual contact, intravenous drug use/sharing needles, blood transfusions, etc. One method in particular can be helped, intravenous drug use, is an almost completely avoidable method of transmission. According to statehealthfacts.org, the cumulative number of new cases by injection drug use in Texas through 2007 were over 10,000, and nearly 236,000 cases nationwide. The Center for Disease control and Prevention in their 2005 report to congress concluded that needle exchange programs can effectively reduce the rate of infection, yet the country drags its heels on supporting the programs through legislation.
Contemporary social programs like needle exchanges benefit the public if they are put into place and funded effectively. Currently, varies from state to state, but is generally allowed in all states but Texas, although they are allowed in Australia, Canada and the UK, among others. Depending on the state or territory, the laws vary, but generally the possession or distribution of syringes is against the law, making the institution of programs tricky at best.
The programs usually exchange user’s dirty needles for sterile ones, helping to prevent the sharing of dirty needles. They also allow distributers to promote safe sex practices, testing, and other preventative measures along with syringes. Unsurprisingly, needle exchange programs typically invite some amount of controversy when brought up.
They do not advocate drug use as the general premise may suggest, it rather acknowledges that users will use regardless, and we may as well attempt to control the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as other diseases like Hepatitis. Programs also provide safe disposal for needles – rather than expose anybody who could potentially come into contact with a carelessly discarded needle, they can be properly thrown out in a manner that poses no danger to others.
They do not also promote increased drug use, according to the 2005 report to congress, nor are they a severe economic drain. A sterilized syringe costs less than a dollar, and the general accepted budget for running a program for a year is $169,000 according to aidsaction.org. For comparison’s sake, this site reports that the lifetime treatment for a single HIV/AIDS patient can run around $200,000.
No single student, or even student organization can fix social issues or launch a comprehensive needle exchange program. But there is no stopping education – contact and push legislators for federal funding for needle exchange programs as well as better education for the general public. Even awareness can save lives.