Syringe Services Programs

Addiction affects so many of us. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the opioid crisis out of headlines, but it continues to devastate our Texas communities. In 2019, 7.7% Americans (19.3 Million) had a substance use disorder according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

What else can be done to help El Pasoans struggling with addiction?

I'm Lawyer Alexandria Serra, this is Lawyer Talk Thursday (catch it every week on Instagram @alexandriaserra or in your inbox), and you're about to find out. On April 29th, El Paso opened its first women's only rehab center but other programs, maybe not as popular, would do a lot to prevent disease and make our communities safer.


What Are Syringe Services Programs? Why Are They Needed?

Syringe services programs (SSPs), or needle exchange programs, are an important part of community health education. These programs help drug users in several ways:

  • It gives them access to clean needles and syringes;
  • It gives them a safe place to drop off their used needles;
  • It gives them a place to get information for treatment programs and serves as an incentive to get them there in the first place;
  • It provides screening care and treatment for hepatitis and HIV; and
  • It provides vaccines and other Healthcare Services to these drug users.

Do These Programs Help? Used needles are incredibly dangerous for our communities when they are left on the streets, in parks, or in other public places. SSPs have life-saving potential, most studies show that people who use a needle exchange are more likely to enter treatment programs and less likely to get life-threatening diseases. Such programs don't increase crime and they actually decrease needles being left in public. #FACTS

Where Are These Programs? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 2,500 new HIV infections occur each year among people who inject drugs. There are 360 SSP locations listed on the North America Syringe Exchange Network with services ranging from case management to wound care.

If you would like to view more information on this topic, please visit their website at San Antonio started its program in 2019 and several other cities are hoping to follow suit. Other cities in Texas who have implemented SSPs include Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco. But there’s a problem even when a legitimate SSP is started, funded, and operation. Police Departments won't buy in because possession is still illegal.

Attempts here in El Paso have led to people being charged with drug paraphernalia, a Class C misdemeanor, or worse. That’s unacceptable.

With over 90,000 Texans living with HIV, is this a public health issue? A criminal issue or both?

Other addiction resources: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


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