"Syringe Exchange Programs enable drug use"

The Tired Narrative: 

Syringe-service programs "enable" drug use by making it easier for drug users to inject drugs. News articles frequently cite scientific literature showing access to new and unused syringes prevents the spread of blood-borne infection. The research is often pitted against concerns about "coddling" and "enabling" drug users.  


Articles commonly raise notions that syringe access "make it easy for people to shoot up," and "encourage injection drug use." 


Articles also often refer to used syringes as "dirty" and unused syringes as "clean." 


During an overdose crisis driven by injection drug use, it is imperative that people do not share syringes or re-use old ones. If people who inject drugs do not have access to sterile injection equipment, they run the risk of contracting or spreading blood-borne diseases. By simply avoiding a"both-sides" to every story approach on syringe sevices, journalists are communicating effective public health interventions supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Surgeon General. 

The Informed Narrative: 

Coverage of syringe-service programs often falls into a trap called "false equivalency." This happens when "two-sides" of a story are given equal weight, even though one side has proof and evidence and the other side does not. The science clearly shows that access to new syringes reduces the spread of blood-borne infections like HIV. Syringe-service programs collect and safely dispose of used equipment, reducing biohazards from public spaces. 


There is no evidence that increased access to sterile injection equipment creates new injection drug users. People accessing syringe-service programs are already injecting drugs.

It is important to refrain from using words like "clean" and "dirty" when referring to syringes. Terms like "new" and "used" are neutral, avoiding implicit negative connotations. 

Connect with Expert Sources:

Keith Brown, Katal Center

Eliza Wheeler, Harm Reduction Coalition