Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV
Albuquerque has a problem.
The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely. Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.
The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything.
A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.
Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:
When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people?
For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA.
I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated. This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14).
There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction.
Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.
As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice. It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31).