Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

“Treat Us Like Human Beings”: New ADAI Report Features Interviews with Syringe Exchange Participants


A new brief from Alison Newman, MPH, Connor Henry, MPH, and Caleb Banta-Green, PhD, MPH, MSW, “Treat us like individual human beings”: 2018 qualitative interviews with Washington State syringe exchange participants,” is now available on our Publications & Reports page.

To get a richer understanding of the lives of syringe exchange participants, the authors conducted in-person qualitative interviews that explored motivations for methamphetamine and heroin use, life priorities and challenges, and what services would be most helpful in improving overall quality of life.

Twenty-four interviews were conducted total in Bellingham, Pasco, Tacoma, and Walla Walla. This work is a complement to the WA Statewide Syringe Exchange Survey conducted in 2015, 2017, and 2019 (analysis underway).

Key findings included:

  • Syringe exchange program participants appreciate the services available through the exchange and are interested in expanded services at these locations.
    Participants reported that they used methamphetamine because it was very available, to increase energy, cope with mental health issues, lessen physical pain, and handle symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
  • Participants reported they used heroin primarily to avoid opioid withdrawal, “numb” emotions, and manage physical pain.
  • Lack of housing and the consequences of drug use were top concerns for interviewees who also identified a range of services that would be helpful to improve their overall quality of life.
  • Interviews clearly documented respondents’ humanity and their desire, and often their ability, to continue to function in important areas of their lives.
  • Many people had previous experience with medications for opioid use disorder and had faced barriers in accessing or staying in a treatment program so they could stay on medications.

Thank you to the exchanges we worked with on this project, and to the syringe exchange participants who shared their time and experiences.

This work was supported by the WA Health Care Authority, Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.