Merchants, samaritans, and public health workers: Secondary syringe exchanger discursive practices

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7 Scopus citations


Background Secondary syringe exchangers (SSEs) are a vital component of harm reduction efforts among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs). However, little research has explored how secondary exchange occurs, nor why SSEs do their work. This study looks at secondary exchange as an act of resilience within the PWID risk environment. It asks how secondary syringe exchangers utilize syringes to improve their mental and material well-being. Methods This article draws on findings from semi-structured in-depth interviews of 30 SSEs. It is also informed by 4 years of participant observation as a volunteer and site supervisor at the San Francisco Aids Foundation syringe exchange sites, and 1 year of participant observation with SSEs and their clients. Results This study finds that SSEs use syringes as a resource to support three discursive practices – those of merchants, public health workers, and samaritans. These discursive practices correlate to their work and educational backgrounds, and to their accounts of charging for syringes, disseminating public health information, and helping their clients in various ways. Conclusion SSEs hold heterogeneous motivations and operate in multiple contexts. Many SSEs see themselves as, and behave as, informal health care workers or helpers in their community. They could be utilized, with minimal training and encouragement, to disseminate additional harm reduction information and materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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