North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) Gains Support of Local Law Enforcement

By Rob Banaszak on February 16, 2011 in Southern Initiatives, Syringe Access Fund

Organization Unites with Local Law Enforcement & Injection Drug Users to Fight for Syringe Decriminalization and Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs)

by Robert BB Childs, MPH
Executive Director
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) has been able to advocate for syringe decriminalization and the legalization of syringe exchange programs thanks to grants from AIDS United. NCHRC is North Carolina’s only comprehensive harm reduction program.  NCHRC engages in grassroots advocacy, resource development, coalition building and direct services for those made vulnerable by drug use, sex work, overdose, immigration status, gender, STIs, HIV and hepatitis.

In solidarity with law enforcement and Injection Drug Users (IDUs), NCHRC has been advocating for saner syringe access laws.  North Carolina has an estimated 25,000-50,000 IDUs, restrictive syringe access laws and no legal Syringe Exchange Programs; this has contributed to over 35,000 HIV infections and over 150,000 hepatitis C infections due to syringe and injection equipment sharing.

Though NC boasts 5 underground syringe exchange programs spread throughout the state in the Triangle, Winston Salem, Carrboro, Greensboro and Asheville, they cannot come close to meeting the population’s needs due to legal and financial barriers. Unfortunately for NC, this has led to “one in three” law enforcement officers receiving accidental needle-sticks over their careers. In NC, it is illegal to carry syringes or injection equipment to inject drugs, therefore users share equipment and do not inform law enforcement if they are carrying equipment.  This leaves law enforcement prone to needlesticks when they perform mandatory pat downs by accidentally touching the syringe tips. Complicating matters, law enforcement are not given needlestick resistant gloves as standard issue due to budget cuts, thus they have no protection from needlesticks.  When injured by the needle, they may have to receive expensive post exposure prophylaxis, which leads to sick time, a loss of income to the department , loss of labor and possible HIV and hepatitis infection to the officer.

Twenty-eight percent of NC law enforcement will receive multiple sticks over their career, which recently happened to an officer in Kannapolis, NC. In response to this health concern, some law enforcement have joined NCHRC’s syringe decriminalization advocacy movement, due to the overwhelming evidence that syringe decriminalization, which allows for syringe exchange programs, decreases needlesticks by 66%.  Law enforcement are sick of being exposed to needlesticks and thus are joining NCHRC in its advocacy to efforts to fight in union for change.  Recently the former Sheriff of Macon County came out in support of our cause, as well as officers from the Charlotte, Concord, Franklin and Winston Salem areas.  NCHRC was able to connect with multiple law enforcement by leading trainings for crisis intervention team officers on working with injection drug users and responding to drug overdoses, by contacting sympathetic officers referred by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and by directly approaching law enforcement members and trainers.

On April 13th, 2011, NCHRC will bring law enforcement, injection drug users, farm workers who inject vitamins and antibiotics, transgender people who inject hormones, concerned citizens and public health officials, in union with our colleagues at the NC AIDS Action Network to unify for saner syringe and HIV policies in North Carolina.  We will unify as one at the legislature to call North Carolina to liberate itself from unhealthy policies.

We’ll be there and we hope that you too will join in solidarity with us.


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