Posting the story about David Hoose's law firm and how he defended Arise when we were raided got me thinking about needle exchange.
Before 2006, when pharmacy sale of syringes was legalized in Massachusetts-- one of only four states to still prohibit such sales-- IV drug users' only legal route to needles was through one of the state's four sanctioned NEX programs. Arise and others, such as Springfield's Department of Health and Human Services, tried and failed to get a similar program in Springfield-- a long and frustrating story. .
Although the four Massachusetts needle exchange programs still exist, much of the political controversy-- and organizing!-- has died away. I checked several websites, including the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts, and the Drug Policy Alliance, and the parts of their websites concerned with NEX haven't been updated since the pharmacy sales law was passed.
One advantage that NEX programs continue to have over pharmacy sales is that people who use the exchanges are more likely to seek treatment for addiction. You're in an environment where drug use doesn't have to be hidden, where you are not judged by your addiction, where information on access to treatment is all around you with staff ready to help you if you want to quit.
Actually getting access to treatment, of course, is another story. At one point real organizing was done around "Treatment on Demand" and people more people were aware of the issue. Now that issue and its organizing seems to have become a casualty of Massachusett's budget crisis.
Most people think of recovery from drug addiction in terms that jump from zero to one hundred with nothing in between. They don't understand what harm reduction is even though they may use it in their own lives. (Can't stop smoking yet but you can cut down; you drink too much but won't get behind the wheel of a car.) But harm prevention for drug users gets little respect. I guess it's not absolute enough in the world of personal responsibility.
Some harm reductionists believe that all the harm that is done by drugs stems from their prohibition. I'm not in that category, although I know that criminalizing drug use is far, far less effective in turning addicts into non-addicts than is a public health approach.
If someone had asked me why I choose to give IV drug users clean needles, I would not have said it was because I supported their drug use. I would have said then as I say now, Stay alive, stay alive as long as you can to increase the chances that one day you will stop using.