Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

This article was originally published on the SciBlogs network on 16/6/2017. It is reproduced here with permission. 

The nurse steadied my arm as she gently positioned the syringe barrel in place. “You can look away if you need to,” she said, “it will soon be over.” I squirmed in my seat, but kept my eyes fixed on the needle as it gently slid beneath my skin. I was six years old, and photographs of children suffering from measles, mumps and rubella kept me awake at night. I would toss and turn, imagining that every tickle from my flannelette sheets was the first bump of an angry measles rash. This cold, silver needle gliding into my vein represented freedom from this anxiety. It stung, and it made me feel queasy, but any childhood fear of contracting some horrifically virulent disease was alleviated.

Colin Murdoch

Disposable syringes made of plastic are commonplace today. We don’t blink twice upon seeing a hollow needle made of metal, a barrel and a plunger made of plastic. Indeed, sixteen billion of them are used the world over every year. However, it has been only 55 years since the plastic syringe was invented, replacing the glass and metal syringes that had been used since the 17th century. The plastic disposable syringe was invented by a New Zealander, the pharmacist and veterinarian Colin Albert Murdoch. Born in Christchurch on the 6th of February, 1929, the young Murdoch was a precocious and intelligent child. At the age of ten, instead of playing with mud pies, he was already mixing nitrates with sulphuric acid to make gunpowder, building himself a firearm with a wick and a small asbestos-filled hammer. Despite suffering from dyslexia, Murdoch had an avid interest in chemistry and began studying at the College of Pharmacy in Wellington. At the age of 25, he opened a pharmacy in Timaru.

Murdoch was a remarkably compassionate and thoughtful man. At the age of 13, he saved a man from drowning in the New Brighton estuary and was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal. Murdoch’s empathy extended not only to humans, but also animals. Later in his life, Murdoch studied veterinary medicine and turned his hand at treating animals and livestock. He was well aware of the risks in reusing syringes; the glass syringes in use at the time were designed for multiple use and were sterilised each time. Infection caused by the transmission of dangerous pathogens from animal to animal or person to person still occurred, despite careful sterilisation practices. This was because crystalline antibiotic deposits on the inside walls of the syringes had made bacteria resistant. Murdoch thus set out to design the disposable hypodermic syringe, a plastic version of its glass predecessors.  According to legend, the eureka moment hit Murdoch as he was playing with his fountain pen. Perhaps all those kids playing with their fidget spinners are onto something.

Murdoch immediately presented his design to the New Zealand Department of Health, but his idea was dismissed as being too “abstruse” and “futuristic”. Development of the syringe was delayed for several years due to a lack of funding and support. Thankfully, Murdoch’s design was finally implemented, and became incredibly successful. As articulated in the book Kiwi Ingenuity – A Book of New Zealand Ideas and Inventions, published in 1993, “It is impossible to comprehend the catastrophic consequences of this situation if such practices were still occurring today. Diseases of such ultimate incurability and virulence as the HIV and AIDS virus, hepatitis A, B, C and most recently a new D form… and TB to name just a few. Instead of now having to care for, and contain, the several million infected people throughout the world who have AIDS, the numbers could well be 30 or 40 percent of the entire population.”

Colin Murdoch was a prolific inventor and went on to design many different variations of the disposable syringe, such as prepared ampoule-type moulded plastic syringe darts, disposable automatic vaccinator syringes, disposable sterile pre-filled hypodermic syringes, sterile self-filling syringes for blood samples, variable dose vaccinator syringes and wet and dry disposable syringes. Despite owning the patents to over 40 inventions, Murdoch did not profit greatly from his designs. In 1995, he told the Timaru Herald, “Patents give you the right to sue, they don’t give you the money to sue. It just costs too much.”

Clean Needle Exchanges

As well as facilitating countless vaccinations and saving the lives of diabetics the world over, the disposable syringe has also revolutionised the lives of people with drug addictions. The value of clean needle exchanges has been proven time and time again. A comprehensive 2004 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found a “compelling case that NSPs substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among IDUs and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” At these clean needle exchanges, injecting drugs users may obtain hypodermic needles at little or no cost.

Based on the philosophy of harm reduction that attempts to reduce the risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDs, clean needle exchanges offer equipment free of charge, and often require service users to return used syringes to receive an equal number of new syringes. These exchanges and the disposable, single-use needles they offer, decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis without creating new drug users. Moreover, the vast majority of clean needle exchanges aren’t just clean, clinical offices where drug users can shuffle in to pick up equipment. Instead, these programs host support clubs, HIV and STI testing, health and counselling service referrals, the provision of up-to-date information about safe injecting practices, and access to contraception and sexual health service. They can also serve as safe spaces for individuals to learn about their rights and recover their dignity.

Confessions of a Master Procrastinator

Confessions of a Master Procrastinator

Time: 1:57am
Assignment word count: 1026/3000
Due: 9:00am

If you at all relate to the above, welcome to my world.

I would consider myself a true master of very few things in life, but I could teach a comprehensive course on how to procrastinate.

I could write a great thesis on it, if I wasn’t too busy procrastinating.

Even in writing this post I am procrastinating from about 10 other things that I should be doing.

And maybe thats the problem. I think of myself as a ‘productive’ procrastinator. This means I procrastinate by doing things that are less urgent than the assignment I should be writing. The issue here is that it makes me feel like I am still technically doing something, and hence takes away some of the guilt and panic I feel about the 3000 word research proposal that I should have finished by now.

But the problem with being busy, and being a so-called productive procrastinator, is that there is never any shortage of things to do to procrastinate from the thing which has the most imminent deadline.

I have been asked many times how do I do everything I need to do, and still function as a coherent human being. And there is no easy answer, plus sometimes I don’t sleep, as evidenced by me currently writing this at 2am.

But there are some things I have picked up that help alleviate procrastination. These might seem obvious to some people who actually have their lives together* but it took me a while to learn.

*by this I mean people who do their laundry BEFORE they run out of clothes.

1. Try to love what you do.

This is easier said than done for some people. But this is the single biggest thing that has changed the way I work. If I actually give a shit about what I am working on, the chances of me actually finishing a task are much higher.
This applies across the board, and there are ways to change your work into something you care at least a little bit about. Wherever possible, pick an assignment topic you are actually interested in, as opposed to one you think will be easy.
If you are lucky enough to have a job you love, good for you (but also I sort of hate you). If not, try turning a retail or service job into something more interesting by making friends and finding the comedy in the mundane.

2. Try to plan ahead.

A calendar app on my phone has changed my life. Google Calendar is fine but I personally use the free app Sunrise because it lets you combine multiple calendars (including FB events) in one place. Set your reminders well and then you never have to remember a thing about your life ever again, because trying to remember things like meetings, birthdays and due dates is half the battle. Taking away that stress helps immensely.

3. Give yourself permission to have bad days.

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Handing an assignment a day late or forgetting a deadline seems horrific at the time, but I can promise you will survive.
Theres nothing wrong with holding yourself to a high standard. But beating yourself up isn’t constructive.

Theres a fine line between acknowledging failure and clinging to it. 

– The Master Procrastinator

Welcome to our world..

Welcome to our world..

Welcome to the first of many posts on the wonderous new UniCrew blog. We are a hub for everything volunteering, social action and student culture related.
From interviews with local good sorts, to your news and stories, through to volunteering culture, we want to show off the best of what students have to offer.

Stay tuned for lots more to come,

The Editors
Jessie and Fred