Apr 4, 2024 - Health

Trump's surgeon general urges red states to support needle exchanges

Jerome Adams

Jerome Adams. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former President Trump's surgeon general is advocating for conservative states to back needle exchanges as a strategy to reduce transmission of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and save lives while the fentanyl epidemic rages on.

Why it matters: Making illicit drug use easier may seem counterintuitive, but it's been shown to improve public health and reduce societal costs, Jerome Adams argued in an opinion piece he co-authored in USA Today.

  • "Syringe services programs" provide drug users clean syringes to cut the odds of disease transmission from shared needles. They've been around since the HIV/AIDS crisis and have been a magnet for controversy from the start.

Driving the news: Officials in states including Idaho, Nebraska and West Virginia have moved to curtail the programs, saying they send the wrong message during the opioid epidemic, threaten public safety and aren't effective.

Yes, but: Adams and other advocates argue the programs don't just hand out syringes but provide overdose prevention education and tools, community support services and options for treatment and recovery.

  • They say the profusion of synthetic opioids like fentanyl has exacerbated the overdose crisis to the point where harm reduction programs are now unfairly blamed for not bringing down a dramatic spike in overdoses.

What they're saying: "Misguided policies can hamstring the ability of needle exchange programs to meet the pressing needs of vulnerable communities, especially as the opioid epidemic worsens," Adams wrote in the piece, co-authored with Mazen Saleh, a harm reduction specialist at the free-market R Street Institute.

  • "The nation's stubbornly high overdose rate is not a sign of SSPs' failure; it is a sign of fentanyl's success. We must do more, not less."

Before his turn as surgeon general, Adams was Indiana's state health commissioner at a time when a syringe program helped contain a major HIV outbreak.

What we're watching: While some states weigh more restrictions on needle exchanges, Pennsylvania is considering legalizing syringe services statewide.

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