The Importance of Peer-Delivered Syringe Exchange Programs
Peer-Delivered Syringe Exchange programs provide a vital bridge between marginalized drug user communities and needle exchanges, impacting positively not only on those who use the service, but also the peers who are typically current and former drug users.
Peer-Delivered Syringe Exchange (PDSE) is a program that was created to help reach injecting drug users (IDUs) who are, due to different factors, unable to visit a syringe exchange program (SEP) to collect their necessary materials, as well as dispose of their used syringes safely. Peers involved in the program are often available during the evenings or weekends when the SEP is closed, and therefore able to provide participants with free, clean syringes or other materials when they would otherwise be unable to access them.
People taking part in the program as peers are either drug users themselves or have a very close relationship with the drug user community, and therefore are able to access people and areas that others working at an SEP might not be able to, or might not even know about -- for example, underground shooting galleries, crack spots etc.
Read the Peer-Delivered Syringe Exchange Toolkit by the Harm Reduction Coalition.
The peers are also trained in safer disposal, overdose prevention, safer sex practices, safer injecting, safer smoking (crack cocaine), Hepatitis C and HIV transmission prevention, and can educate people who do not visit an SEP on how to be safe when using.
Because peers have a close relationship with the drug user community, program participants and IDUs who are potential participants of an SEP are often times much more comfortable and open to discuss their problems or health issues with a peer rather than a regular staff member at an SEP as they view them as someone who really understands what they are going through. Also, as a participant, seeing someone who has “been there, done that” now having an important role in an organization can inspire him or her to also become a peer.
The PDSE program doesn’t only benefit the organization and the participants, but the peers themselves as well. Being given the opportunity to become a peer can change a drug user's life in multiple ways. They become highly educated in safer using practices, are able to help others in their community, and even though they aren’t employed by the SEP, they often get a stipend for their efforts.
Also, becoming a peer can enable a drug user to work their way up in the program, and even eventually become a full-time staff member or find full-time employment elsewhere in the same field.
A PDSE peer’s knowledge and personal experience is vital for SEPs, and can teach staff members and volunteers new things every day about drug use and drug users. They provide a vital insight and gateway between the SEP and drug users that might otherwise be much more difficult to obtain and maintain.
For more on PDSE, read about the success of one such program in New York run by the Washington Heights CORNER Project