A third policy option recently enacted to combat the opiate overdose crisis is syringe exchange services. In 2016, the legislature passed HB 308 which allowed for syringe exchange services in Utah (le.utah.gov). This law went into effect on December 1, 2016, on World AIDS day and exchange services began that day in Salt Lake City. The purpose of syringe exchange programs is to reduce the transmission of blood disease such as Hepatitis C and HIV, while linking program participants to resources and referrals for treatment, both disease and substance abuse.
Through syringe exchange services programs, drug users who would not normally have contact with any services, are offered options and resources. Syringe exchanges have been active in the United States since the early 80’s when the AIDS epidemic forced an out of the box approach to reducing disease transmission (Williams, Oulet, 2010). Research has since demonstrated that syringe exchange services serve as a conduit to treatment services, mental health services, healthcare, and the overdose reversal drug, naloxone (Barreras and Toruella, 2013).
There are many pros to syringe exchange programs. One of the most important is their cost compared to the benefit they provide. Syringe exchange programs are relatively inexpensive to operate and have a significant cost savings when compared to the cost of treating overdose, blood infections, infectious diseases, and drug related injuries (Nguygen et al., 2014)(Tobin et al, 2009). Additional benefits of syringe exchange services in Utah is that the law requires participants are given information, oral or written, providing education, resources and referrals for HIV and HCV testing, disease prevention and treatment.
There are negatives to this particular policy as well. HB 308 did not have any funding attached to it. This has made it difficult for organizations to provide syringe exchange services due to a lack of funding. There is also a ban on using federal funds for syringes which limits the possibilities of where funding for this program can be obtained (Green et al, 2012). One of the biggest obstacles in this policy is the social stigma attached to it. Many people believe syringe exchange encourages drug use despite evidence to the contrary. Many communities do not want to allow or embrace syringe exchange, making this a slow moving implementation of policy.