Opponents of needle exchange programs always make the same argument — especially now that the data overwhelmingly shows that they work. They claim that it “sends the wrong message” — today in Indiana, and even back in the 1980s, when clean needle programs saved my life in New York. But in fact, they’re wrong on both the science, and the symbolism.
From the outside, handing out clean needles does look like “enabling” drug use. It does appear to condone injection, saying “I don’t care if you kill yourself, so long as you don’t infect people with HIV.” It seems to say that drug use is OK.
But from the inside, the message is very different. To understand why, it’s important to recognize why people inject drugs and how the stigma of being identified as an addict can poison you.