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Alcohol and drug abuse is one of the major health and social challenges faced by a number of European countries such as United Kingdom and the United States of America. Prolonged use of drugs and alcohol usually results into drug addiction, which has severe effects on the health of the drug user. For instance, drug addicts often suffer from intense and irrepressible craving for drugs despite the repercussions.
Most of the European countries like UK and America have adopted health policies intended to reduce drug abuse and achieve harm reduction. Harm reduction involves lessening the risks associated with using contaminated drug injection equipment.
This paper examines some of the approaches adopted by the European nations and USA government in an attempt to reduce drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the initiatives include needle exchange and methadone maintenance.
The needle exchange program is an initiative that aims at reducing the harm associated with sharing needles and syringes among injection drug users (IDUs) whereby the IDUs get a chance to acquire hypodermic needles, as well as, injection equipment at a subsidized cost or free of charge. In some instances, the injection drug users are usually required to submit used needles to acquire an equivalent amount of new injection equipment.
The needle exchange program also aims at reducing the rate of improper disposal of used drug injection equipment. Other services and materials provided by the needle exchange program include HIV and Hepatitis C testing, guidance and counseling, needle containers, and alcohol swabs.
Proponents of harm reduction “believe that the needle exchange program provides a social benefit in reducing health costs”. For instance, the needle and syringe exchange program has helped to reduce the rate of HIV infection among the injection drug users in the UK, which is the pioneer of needle and syringe exchange program.
Through the exchange programs, nurses are able to share information with the IDUs about HIV infection, thereby helping to prevent physical transmission of HIV. The realization of positive results in the use of needle exchange has promoted its spread to other European countries.
Additionally the supporters of the exchange programs argue that the needle exchange program not only protect the injection drug users but also their families and relatives.
Despite the benefits associated with needle exchange programs, there are also critics who have given various opposing opinions. For instance, opponents of the needle exchange program view the initiative as a waste of money because it promotes the use of drugs at the expense of spreading the massage of drug abstinence.
Additionally, the critics believe that the needle exchange initiative promotes drug dealings because the IDUs get a chance to acquire extra injection equipment, which they can sell and use the income to purchase more drugs.
Therefore, as much as the needle exchange program helps in reducing the risks associated with sharing drug injection needles, it also promotes continuous use of the drugs, thereby posing more challenge to the fight against drug abuse.
Whereas the needle exchange programs aim at harm reduction among the IDUs, methadone maintenance enables the IDUs to reduce the use of drugs or totally recover from drug injection practices. “Methadone is a synthetic agent that works by occupying the brain receptor sites affected by heroine and other opiates” (CDC, 2002).
For example, methadone enables IDUs to have lesser craving for opiates, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and enables the IDUs to function normally. Individuals are supposed to take a dose of methadone on a daily basis.
In most countries like UK, methadone is usually administered in the dispensing clinics to ensure that the victims take the right dose and to prevent re-sale of the prescribed methadone dose to other addicts. Once an individual has taken the methadone, the drug is “widely distributed to body tissues where it is stored and then released into the plasma, thereby stabilizing the patient”.
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This approach is beneficial in a number of ways to both the user and the society. Methadone maintenance treatment enables the drug addicts to reduce the use of drug injections or completely discontinue using drug injections (CDC, 2004).
It also protects the addicts of opiates from infections like HIV, Hepatitis B, and sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, methadone maintenance helps to reduce criminal activities and mortality rate among the opiate addicts. Through several studies, methadone has also been proved to be cost effective.
Despite the positive results of methadone maintenance, the approach has remained a controversial subject in America and Europe. Most of the opponents believe that methadone is a substitute for opiate addiction; hence, it does not achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating drug addiction (CDC, 2002).
Most of the patients who undergo methadone treatment have also shown continued use of opiates because of several reasons such as lack of self-control over addiction, compromising situations, and personal reasons.
Critics of methadone maintenance also argue that the approach may promote criminal activities and drug dealings in the society. For example, patients who are under methadone maintenance may sell the drug to other addicts to earn some income (CDC, 2002).
Therefore, a number of people in America and Europe are pessimistic about methadone maintenance as a way of dealing with drug addiction. The approach also encourages drug addicts to remain dependent on the drug for years. Unfortunately, some of the addicts usually fail to recover from drug addiction because they supplement the dependency on methadone with other drugs and alcohol.
Additionally, some patients may shy away from undergoing methadone treatment due to the strict procedure that an individual has to go through. Some of the patients also fail to visit the methadone clinics on a daily basis in order to get treatment due long distance from their residence.
Similarly, a number of people may avoid undergoing the treatment because of stigmatization associated with clinic environment, which may lead to low self-esteem.
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that programs like needle exchange and methadone maintenance that a number of European nations and America have adopted in an attempt to fight drug abuse are only beneficial to some extent. For example, the needle exchange program helps to reduce the risks associated with drug injection.
On the other hand, methadone maintenance helps to stabilize patients of opiate in order to function normally. However, these approaches also have a number of side effects. For instance, patients of methadone maintenance often remain dependant on the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Similarly, needle exchange may encourage the IDUs to remain dependant on the state for supply of the drug injection equipment. Therefore, the ultimate goal of realizing a drug free state may not be fully achieved through these approaches because the programs reinforce the use of drugs.
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