What Would Jesus Do?

“And the King answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”  --Matthew, 25:40

Many of us heard this quote often growing up, and many have unconsciously incorporated it into our daily outlook on life.  We try our best to be considerate to passersby, to those we meet in service positions, and perhaps most crucially, to those we feel have wronged us or those we love.  Regardless of personal religious affiliation, people would overwhelmingly argue that this idea, resting deep inside millions and millions of hearts, is a tool that helps us—all of us—live in a healthier, more peaceful world.

But some aspects of our world seem decidedly unhealthy, unpeaceful, and downright dangerous.  Such situations, circumstances and people are those that seem to have fallen victim to unspeakable evil; some things, we think, are so far gone that no effort, no matter how God-centered, will bring any aid or relief.  But a collective voice of religious conviction is rising, reminding all of us—all children of God, that we need to double down in tough times and translate our faith into works.

The opioid epidemic is running rampant across America.  People in positions of legal, medical and intellectual authority are testing any possible remedies for the opioid crisis that they can find.  Some relief has been found, but by and large the drug problem this country faces is still of epic proportions.

Yet the barest glimmer of hope has begun to shine, as research has begun to show unequivocally that syringe service programs (SSPs: Mobile networks that provide users of intravenous drugs with clean needles) are helping to markedly reduce the spread of bloodborne infections (including Hepatitis C and H.I.V.) in places where they have been legally sanctioned. SSPs are not only helping reduce harm among those who actively use drugs, but also among members of the larger community, including law enforcement officers and medical technicians. SSPs help benefit the fellowship of men and women in which we all live.

Of course, at first glance the idea of offering clean needles to people using intravenous drugs seems counterintuitive.  After all, wouldn’t giving people the tools needed to use drugs in effect say to them, “Using drugs is okay! You have society’s blessing to carry on in your misery”?  And because overdoses, infections and deaths from injectable drug use continue, it seems to many that SSPs aren’t accomplishing anything apart from spreading drug use. And spreading drug us is not helpful at all.  Indeed, it seems rational to declare a War on Drugs; to declare a war on a phenomenon that has declared war on our world, and left many of us for dead.

But as people of faith, this is precisely the time to put our convictions to the test.  We must momentarily set aside the fact that research shows SSPs to be an effective weapon against the harms perpetuated by intravenous drug use, and answer a deeper call.  Even though our own struggles may not on the surface resemble those of millions of people grappling with intravenous drug use, we must remember how we have felt in our own darkest hours.  We must remember our own yearning, our own defeated pride, our own crushed confidence. Most importantly, we must remember what it was like to feel the constant weakening of our last hope: that God would send His mercy our way, no matter the form that mercy might take.

We are all members of the same human family. We must recall the ways in which family members can cause us grief; many of us and those we hold dearest may have been devastated by opioid use. As Jesus advised, we must turn the other cheek.

Many religious leaders have begun to echo the sentiment that when fighting the spread of drug use, our pervasive spirit of punishment is wrong.  Instead, they argue, the highest motivation should be “our religious principles of compassion, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.”

Syringe Service Programs show us at least one way to adopt such attitudes while still effectively fighting drug use and the harm it brings.  By supporting legislation allowing SSPs to operate legally in Arizona, we of earnest faith are doing something to help those who are suffering.  Just as God’s laws seek to save people from their own misguided behavior, so should our laws here on Earth seek to help—not to condemn.

As people of faith, our highest calling in this lifetime is to act according to the examples of best model yet to appear.  To live a satisfying life that is orchestrated by God, we must remember to follow His teachings. To offer our support to those who desperately need our helping hands.


Florida Expands It's Miami-Dade Needle Exchange Program

On May 1, the Florida legislature voted 40-0 to expand a pilot needle-exchange program from Miami-Dade county to
all Florida counties.  The measure will allow Syringe Service Programs (SSPs) to operate statewide, widening the distribution of unused needles, Naloxone, H.I.V. testing and treatment referrals.

We here at Sonoran Prevention Works fully support this measure, and we applaud the efforts of the lawmakers and advocates who have worked to bring about this legislation.  Like Arizona, Florida is a conservative state; the similarities between the two states give us great hope that the evidence-based, lifesaving steps taken in Florida are possible in Arizona, as well.

Florida’s lawmakers wisely examined the data related to SSP use in various areas, including in Miami-Dade county, where they elected to run a test SSP program.  Unsurprisingly, in areas where SSPs have been put in place, rates of H.I.V. infection have dropped dramatically, the presence of improperly-discarded needles has decreased, and opiate overdoses have been sharply curtailed by the distribution of Naloxone (Narcan) and its use by people who use drugs.

Arizona and Florida are two of the states reported to have had the greatest increase in overdose deaths between 2016 and 2017.  But while Florida’s increase was a mere 5.9%, Arizona’s increase was 9.4%.  With no further steps taken in Arizona to slow the effects of the opioid epidemic, we can expect the death rate to continue to increase.

We at Sonoran Prevention Works wish to re-assert our evidence-based, data-driven support for the legalization of SSPs, the implementation of which is the single most effective weapon we Arizonans can wield against the deadly drug problem that grips our whole country, and our state in particular.


Legalize Syringe Service Programs: Protect Tourists, Protect Ourselves

In 2018, 43.9 million people made the decision to come to Arizona and visit. It is a safe bet that of those 43.9 million, the vast majority would cite the sheer beauty of Arizona as one of their main reasons for coming here. Not only is the rural landscape immensely appealing, but the action and diversity of our streets--in the cities, in small towns, on our college campuses, and most importantly, our neighborhoods--make Arizona a place to take great pride in.

But in order to preserve our state’s beauty and appeal, we need to keep it clean. And one way to improve cleanliness all over this lovely desert is to institute and legalize Syringe Service Programs (SSPs).

SSPs are often referred to as “Needle Exchange Programs.” They are outreach programs that distribute health and safety supplies such as unused syringes, alcohol swabs and Naloxone (Narcan), as well as offer guidance and referrals to other organizations that may provide further assistance and advice to people currently using drugs. Moreover, SSPs provide safe spaces for people to safely dispose of their used syringes and needles, thereby removing them from public areas in our communities.

SSPs are staffed by professionals trained not only in lifesaving measures such as the administration of Naloxone, but also in how to talk in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental manner to clients about addiction, recovery, and other life challenges that may stand in the way of self-improvement.

Research has shown that in areas where SSPs are active, referrals to treatment options for people who use drugs have increased dramatically, and new infections of bloodborne diseases such as HIV have plummeted. Far from being an encouragement of drug use, SSPs have proven in other states to be the single most effective weapon against the devastating effects of opioid use--not least of all syringe litter, which is not only unsightly but also dangerous to the general public.

One of the most common concerns faced by people confronted with the possibility of introducing an SSP into their community, is the increase of needles in circulation; after all, it seems logical to assume that giving out syringes will increase the number of discarded, used syringes in public areas, thereby increasing risks of bloodborne infection for ordinary citizens.

However, Syringe Service Programs have had the opposite effect. In multiple communities where SSPs have been introduced, the number of used syringes that are improperly discarded actually goes down. This decrease is largely due to the SSPs offering, in addition to syringes, safe spaces for people using drugs to dispose of them. Moreover, if Syringe Service Programs allow legal transport of syringes, people who use drugs are more likely to hold onto a used needle until a safe disposal site can be found.

It is true that one effect of the opioid epidemic has been a noticeable increase in publicly discarded syringes; finding these items in highly-trafficked areas is naturally of great concern to average citizens, who rightfully worry about the accidental spread of bloodborne diseases that can be transmitted through used syringes. At first it seems that the obvious answer to these disposal risks is to decrease the number of syringes (used or unused) in the community by any means necessary.

However, closer scrutiny reveals that although Syringe Service Programs cannot claim to rid an area of used syringes entirely, the implementation of SSPs does in fact decrease the number of improperly discarded syringes, offering clients a safe place to dispose of used syringes and thereby keep the streets safer. In short, Syringe Service Programs are one of the few tools proven effective against the destructive community effects of intravenous opioid use.

In our Arizona legislature, a bill has come up for consideration that would legalize SSPs in our state. We owe it to ourselves to support the legalization of such programs, as they have produced empirical evidence of their useful impact. We Arizonans should take full advantage of the improvement opportunities that SSPs offer; we owe it to our neighbors and our visitors; to our tourists and our residents; to our parks and our streets; to the beautiful desert we proudly call home.

Maggie Maurer
SPW Policy Intern


Intersection of Faith and Harm Reduction

“And the King answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” --Matthew, 25:40

Many of us heard this quote often growing up, and many have unconsciously incorporated it into our daily outlook on life. We try our best to be considerate to passersby, to those we meet in service positions, and perhaps most crucially, to those we feel have wronged us or those we love. Regardless of personal religious affiliation, people would overwhelmingly argue that this idea, resting deep inside millions and millions of hearts, is a tool that helps us—all of us—live in a healthier, more peaceful world.

But some aspects of our world seem decidedly unhealthy, unpeaceful, and downright dangerous. Such situations, circumstances and people are those that seem to have fallen victim to unspeakable evil; some things, we think, are so far gone that no effort, no matter how God-centered, will bring any aid or relief. But a collective voice of religious conviction is rising, reminding all of us—all children of God, that we need to double down in tough times and translate our faith into works.

The opioid epidemic is running rampant across America. People in positions of legal, medical and intellectual authority are testing any possible remedies for the opioid crisis that they can find. Some relief has been found, but by and large the drug problem this country faces is still of epic proportions.
Yet the barest glimmer of hope has begun to shine, as research has begun to show unequivocally that syringe service programs (SSPs: Mobile networks that provide users of intravenous drugs with clean needles) are helping to markedly reduce the spread of bloodborne infections (including Hepatitis C and H.I.V.) in places where they have been legally sanctioned. SSPs are not only helping reduce harm among those who actively use drugs, but also among members of the larger community, including law enforcement officers and medical technicians. SSPs help benefit the fellowship of men and women in which we all live.

Of course, at first glance the idea of offering clean needles to people using intravenous drugs seems counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t giving people the tools needed to use drugs in effect say to them, “Using drugs is okay! You have society’s blessing to carry on in your misery”? And because overdoses, infections and deaths from injectable drug use continue, it seems to many that SSPs aren’t accomplishing anything apart from spreading drug use. And spreading drug us is not helpful at all. Indeed, it seems rational to declare a War on Drugs; to declare a war on a phenomenon that has declared war on our world, and left many of us for dead.

But as people of faith, this is precisely the time to put our convictions to the test. We must momentarily set aside the fact that research shows SSPs to be an effective weapon against the harms perpetuated by intravenous drug use, and answer a deeper call. Even though our own struggles may not on the surface resemble those of millions of people grappling with intravenous drug use, we must remember how we have felt in our own darkest hours. We must remember our own yearning, our own defeated pride, our own crushed confidence. Most importantly, we must remember what it was like to feel the constant weakening of our last hope: that God would send His mercy our way, no matter the form that mercy might take.

We are all members of the same human family. We must recall the ways in which family members can cause us grief; many of us and those we hold dearest may have been devastated by opioid use. As Jesus advised, we must turn the other cheek.

Many religious leaders have begun to echo the sentiment that when fighting the spread of drug use, our pervasive spirit of punishment is wrong. Instead, they argue, the highest motivation should be “our religious principles of compassion, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.”

Syringe Service Programs show us at least one way to adopt such attitudes while still effectively fighting drug use and the harm it brings. By supporting legislation allowing SSPs to operate legally in Arizona, we of earnest faith are doing something to help those who are suffering. Just as God’s laws seek to save people from their own misguided behavior, so should our laws here on Earth seek to help—not to condemn.

As people of faith, our highest calling in this lifetime is to act according to the examples of best model yet to appear. To live a satisfying life that is orchestrated by God, we must remember to follow His teachings. To offer our support to those who desperately need our helping hands.

- By Maggie Maurer,
SPW Policy Intern


Syringe Service Programs: The Best Way to Protect Law-Enforcement Officers

Syringe Service Programs (SSPs) are comprehensive health resource points for people experiencing addiction. SSPs are an evidence based strategy for communicable disease and overdose prevention through providing sterile syringes, safer use supplies, syringe disposal, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, and referrals to treatment.

Unfortunately still many people believe that giving people who use drugs (PWUD) a non-judgmental place to care for their health brands drug use as acceptable and therefore must increase drug use overall. This is despite decades of studies that have shown SSPs actually curtail the use of drugs and increase the number of PWUD seeking and entering treatment. Moreover, SSPs save taxpayers thousands of dollars in healthcare costs brought about by drug use; an analysis published in 2014 showed that every dollar spent on clean syringes for SSPs saved at least six dollars in medical costs for the treatment of H.I.V. alone. Most notably, SSPs greatly reduce the risks faced by those fighting the opioid crisis in the trenches every day: law enforcement and first-responders.

Most people know that used needles are a major cause of blood-borne, infectious diseases such as H.I.V., Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. However, such danger impacts those trying to enforce the law as much as those who are using drugs. Statistics collected in multiple studies across multiple states show that on average, approximately one in three police officers has suffered at least one accidental needle stick, caused by I.V. drug users carrying dirty syringes.

For every accidental needle-stick, the cost to law-enforcement agencies is great, for in such cases officers who have potentially been exposed to Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and H.I.V. must necessarily seek medical attention, including multiple tests for each illness that must continue for at least six months. Additionally, medication treatment must be used, including antiretroviral drugs to combat potential H.I.V. infection, and vaccination to work against potential Hepatitis B infection.

It goes without saying that other great costs of law enforcement’s accidental needle-sticks are psychological and interpersonal. No one should have to bear the emotional weight that comes with the possibility of infection, nor should people have to carry the stress involved with preventative treatment for the period of time it takes to take such measures. Every needle-stick suffered by law enforcement erodes feelings of professional security and adds to an atmosphere of uncertainty in exchanges involving intravenous drug-users, those which pose the risks of accidental needle-sticks.

In 2015, Vice-President Mike Pence (then Governor of Indiana) was presented with the opportunity to bring SSPs into law, after the effects of the opioid epidemic had wreaked havoc on counties in his home state. Though at first he had grave reservations about such programs, he soon connected with law enforcement officers. They assured him that, though the idea of legalizing SSPs may seem on the surface to be counterintuitive and, frankly, radical, they were actually the best way to help their fellow officers prevent risks to their health and safety. As Sheriff Dan McClain of Scott County, Indiana said, “Before this, I never would have considered needle exchange. But once this outbreak happened, it became clear that it was one of the main ways to stop the spread.”

Vice-President Pence changed his attitude after speaking with law enforcement all over the state. At the ceremony announcing the order to allow a needle exchange program in Scott County, Vice-President Pence stated, “I will tell you, I do not support needle exchange as antidrug policy, but this is a public health emergency.”

No one who has devoted his or her professional life to helping those in need of protection and to making communities safer should be presented with the costs, stressors and dangers presented by the very crisis that they are working hard to eradicate. SSPs are the most effective way yet found to reduce these risks and therefore provide support to the law-enforcement community. We Arizonans owe it to our law-enforcement guardians to take whatever measures we can to help them do their jobs more effectively and most importantly, more safely.

-Maggie Maurer, SPW Policy Intern