Monday, September 1, 2008

EDITORIAL: General Hospital should operate a syringe exchange

In a knowledgeable and insightful letter to the New Era published on Sept. 1 entitled "What can be done to address city's downside", contributor Russ Laudenberger recommends in part:

"Address the demand side of illegal drugs, especially chronic users - the top 20 percent that use about 80 percent of the drugs. It's absurd to believe that illegal drugs go away when dealers are taken down. the demand is just the same, and new dealers take over; licking their chops."

In general the Lancaster Newspapers and local government leaders have demonstrated a progressive understanding of the need for prevention and treatment. In recent years they were all constructive in permitting the opening of a methadone clinic.

Nor have the newspapers interfered with the operation of the sole and meager church / private donor sponsored public health facility that has over the years helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and encouraged and assisted addicts to seek treatment. However, these efforts have been tiny in scale and conducted in so conservative a manner that prevents achieving near the full potential.

The most cost effective and publicly desirable effort for the improvement of public health, reduction of crime, and solving problems of the homeless would be for Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) to exercise leadership by opening up a full service syringe exchange!

Syringe exchanges are endorsed by the federal government. They have long been supported by the City of Philadelphia and more recently by Pittsburgh. They operate across the United States and throughout the Western World.

By providing clean needles, condoms and public health counseling to addicts, LGH would retard the spread of HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis throughout the general community. And through safe and supportive contact with clients, they would be able to encourage detoxification and enrolment for methadone or Suboxone treatment.

Every dollar spent by LGH would save LGH many dollars in non-reimbursed health care. The syringe exchange would greatly reduce crime and enable current heroine addicts to become productive members of the community. There still would be crime on the streets and social diseases, but the amount would be dramatically lowered.

For LGH to take such a lead requires leadership and courage and the support of vocal members of the community, including the Lancaster Newspapers.

We have the opportunity. Will we seize it?