February 21, 2017
A now deceased patient of mine once worked cleaning public portable toilets. He would find used syringes and needles in the toilet and risked needle-sticks on a daily basis.
Hospitalists and Infectious disease specialists describe the countless patients with endocarditis, newly diagnosed hepatitis C and, less frequently, HIV, due to reuse of needles and unsanitary injections. These patients have limited contact with healthcare for treatment and education.
Many states have needle exchange programs that decriminalize the possession of trace substances found in the syringe/needle. These programs help to give the person who uses substances the education and access to care for treatment.
Many worry that having a program will make crime and drug use more abundant. Many worry that decriminalizing the substance will normalize the use of substances. Many other states and European countries have enacted programs and studies have shown that a needle exchange program helps the community.
There are two bills in the legislature (HB 610 and SB 234) to approve and start a needle exchange program for New Hampshire. The NHMS legislative committee recently voted to support the concept due to the public health impact. With a program, hopefully fewer people will have needlestick injuries and fewer people will be hospitalized for preventable infections.
Deb Harrigan, MD
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