Viewpoint: How drug exchange programs could save lives

Harrison Cook - Print  | 

Drug exchange programs, which would function along the same lines as a needle exchange program, could help public health officials prevent dangerous overdoses caused by tainted synthetic drugs, according to an op-ed written by Ian Ayers, PhD, professor at New Haven, Conn.-based Yale Law School, and published in The Washington Post.

Here are five things to know:

1. Dr. Ayers pointed to an Aug. 17 overdose epidemic in New Haven, Conn., where 100 individuals overdosed after being exposed to synthetic marijuana laced with Fubinaca, a potent synthetic drug, which mimics the effects of cannabis.

"If needle exchanges can purge dangerous delivery devices from our streets, why not use a drug-exchange program to vacuum up the dangerous drugs themselves?" Dr. Ayers wrote.

2. Through needle exchange programs, drug users receive clean needles and access to drug treatment programming. The model proves a successful tactic to reduce the spread of HIV among users without increasing substance use disorder rates.

3. Dr. Ayers suggests a drug exchange program could help remove dangerous synthetic drugs from a community.

"State lawmakers should authorize public health officials responding to the next tainted synthetic marijuana health emergency to trade cash or even marijuana for K2 — at least in states where recreational marijuana use is legal," Dr. Ayers wrote.

4. He said lawmakers should permit an experiment to study the effectiveness of drug exchanges on an episodic basis in a limited geographic area.

5. Dr. Ayers said he believes the public overdoses in New Haven may be a sign of what is to come, due to the increasing sales of synthetic drugs. "Helping people with substance abuse disorder give up adulterated synthetics for less deadly highs might save lives," he wrote.

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