The ethical point of view of needle exchange programs
| Every 43 minutes someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV due to dirty needles. One out of every three AIDS infection and two out of three Hepatitis C infections are from the injection of drugs. These disquieting facts are taken from a public service announcement encouraging the Needle Exchange program. Whether or not we should provide clean needles to addicts is among one of the most substantial propositions in today’s world. “Addiction is not a choice; it is a disease of choice.” (McCauley from Pleasure Unwoven) It disturbs the brains dexterity to make logical, healthy decisions. "Drug addiction and the often negative behavior and outcomes associated with it are symptoms, but we tend to regard addiction as the result of some deficit or moral disconnect or a choice when the lying or the criminal behavior and all-around poor judgment are just the symptoms of disease.” (Dr. McCauley former U.S. Navy flight surgeon). Addicts share their needles not because they want to, but because they have no other choice. Overall if we have the power to slow the spread of HIV, then we have the responsibility.
The most common position in this debate states that supplying clean needles to drug addicts will only increase their addiction and increase others interest in these drugs. It also gives the idea that drugs are okay and it takes away from the reality and severity of addiction and drugs. “Above all we have the responsibility to protect our children…by making sure that we send them one clear straight forward message, drugs are wrong and they can kill you.” (Barry McCaffrey director of the office of National Drug Control Policy). They also feel that the needle exchange will do nothing to decrease the use of dirty needles because addicts are unreliable, and fail to see logic. Therefore they will continue the use of dirty needles even if a clean one is presented to them. Their brain fails to recognize the danger of using used needles. On the other hand the second most common position says that supplying clean needles will decrease the spread of HIV and save many innocent lives. It also costs less to help addicts than it does to treat people that are HIV positive. It also will not fuel addiction because addiction is a disease, once you are addicted you will find a way to get your drug no matter what, clean needles or not. Addiction will never go away; it is a never ending human struggle. Drugs will always be there, and so will the addicts. It is society’s job to try to slow the spread of HIV, the only thing we have some control over.
The first position leans toward cultural relativism as reasoning for being against the Needle Exchange program. "if society decides that addiction is a disease, then addicts become patients. And that opens a lot of ethical questions and points to a monumental paradigm shift in how we view addiction.” Society has viewed addicts as morally wrong, and evil, they see them as people that only care about themselves and never think about the needs of others. A deontologist would take this side also because he would be worried more about the actions more than the consequences. For example Barry McCaffrey takes a deontological approach when he states“Above all we have a responsibility to protect our children from ever falling victims to the false allure of drugs. We do this first and formost by making sure that we send them one clear straight forward message about drugs. They are wrong and they can kill you.” (Barry McCaffrey director of the office of National Drug Control Policy.) Here he is stating that he is openly more concerned about what the actions will look like, than what the actions will do. For those that are pro-Needle Exchange, they take more of a Utilitarianism approach to the problem. Stating that needle exchange will reduce the transmission of HIV which will save many lives, but also will cost less for the public to provide needles to addicts, than to treat the diseases that come from dirty needles. This solution gives the greatest good to the greatest number.
The first opposing side is also using ethical egoism. They are thinking of themselves instead of other people’s lives. They are opposing supplying needles because they would rather make a point then help the slow the spread of disease. A cultural relativism approach would say that it is more important to not go out of the lines of what society views as good and bad, then to look at the new evidence, and take responsibility. They are also choosing to see the evidence that addiction is a disease, only as it helps to make their point. These people are so concerned with saying addiction is a choice, and yet state that addicts are unreliable and lack the ability to think logically. Addiction is not a choice it is a disease, it has been scientifically proven, and still society turns a blind eye. They are too afraid of the power that that evidence might give to drugs instead of the lives the diseases might kill. They think that by saving the lives they are telling the world that drugs are okay. The problem with that is addiction speaks for itself. Nothing about addiction is appealing, and it never will be. It is the drug that appears appealing. The world already knows how bad addiction is, we have studied it and taught it in schools. This does not need to stop just because we supply clean needles. Utilitarianism is the strongest ethical point in this argument. The opposing side is not thinking about what it will cost our society to keep treating HIV positive addicts, not to mention other diseases that can also be picked up. It will cost less to provide the needles then it will to treat the diseases the needles could prevent. Also the 111 needle-exchange programs in the U.S. have people there to offer help, or information for the addicts. The likelihood of an addict running into this kind of support out on the streets is slim to none. We could be saving lives, lowering costs, and spreading knowledge and hope to addicts, and most of all sending out the message that we care. The utilitarianism approach to needle-exchange is undeniably the most reasonable and logical approach. Needle-exchange is the most effective solution to the spread of HIV and awareness of addiction.