In the most recent issue of Public Health Reports, the official journal of the U.S. Public Health Service, Surgeon General Jerome Adams restated his strong support of syringe services programs (SSPs). While most people know of them as “needle exchange programs,” “syringe services programs” more accurately describes them because they actually provide a much wider array of services in addition to providing clean needles and syringes to people who inject drugs.
As Dr. Adams pointed out when he spoke at the Cato Institute last January, such programs distribute opioid overdose antidote naloxone, offer screening tests and treatment referrals for HIV and hepatitis C, and have brought many users with substance use disorder into rehab programs. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic SSPs can also provide COVID-19 testing.
Dr. Adams’ commentary in Public Health Reports detailed the long and proven track record of SSPs in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis. Now that they are distributing naloxone, they are likely to reduce overdose deaths.
The federal government does not prevent states from legalizing SSPs, and the Surgeon General along with the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are encouraging states to allow them to proliferate. Unfortunately, state‐based drug paraphernalia laws make them illegal in 20 states. My state of Arizona is one of them.
Hopefully, if the Surgeon General continues to promote them, lawmakers in the holdout states will soon come to their senses.