Raleigh rally to support needle-exchange proposal | North Carolina | Indy Week
Pin It

Raleigh rally to support needle-exchange proposal 

Needle exchange programs are efforts that provide intravenous drug users with sterile needles to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. But they're illegal in North Carolina.

A bill in front of the state House wants to make needle exchanges legal and fund three pilot programs at a cost of $550,000.

The bill, HB411 with the short title "Funds for Clean Syringe Program," did not make it out of committee last year, but N.C. AIDS March organizers hope it has a chance in the short session this year if it can make it into the governor's budget. The needle exchange proposal has been around the General Assembly in one form or another since 1997.

The bill does three things: creates three community-based, pilot needle exchange programs; makes participants, volunteers and employees of needle exchanges immune from prosecution for carrying syringes; and funds the programs and a study of the program's effects.

In order to qualify for one of the potential pilot programs, a county's board of commissioners, the local board of health, health director and director of mental health or substance abuse services all have to sign a letter of support to the state health director. So far, Guilford is the only county to have the needed support for a pilot needle exchange.

There are currently needle exchanges operating in Guilford and Buncombe counties under tacit agreement with local law enforcement.

Thelma Wright, with the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, ran a needle exchange from 1999 to 2004 in Guilford County before handing the program off to another. Wright now works as a community activist focusing on intravenous drug users and is helping organize a march in downtown Raleigh on Friday to support the bill. She says the message she hopes to get across is that needle exchange programs are "not about allowing people to use drugs, but helping people stay healthy until they can stop."

Needle exchanges don't just help keep drug users from contracting HIV, but also protect law enforcement, she says. If an addict is stopped by police with a dirty needle, he or she probably won't tell the officer about it because possessing the needle is a misdemeanor. The officer could end up getting stuck by the needle and possibly infected with HIV or hepatitis. If the legislature legalized needle exchanges, addicts enrolled in the program would be immune from the drug paraphernalia charge and would be more likely to tell police about the needle, Wright says.

Marce Abare, a staff member with Global Justice and one of the march organizers, says she hopes the marchers can "directly address Gov. Easley and shed light on the issue."

Easley's office directed questions to the Department of Health and Human Services. Evelyn Foust, the state AIDS director with DHHS, fully supports needle exchange programs. "There is strong evidence nationally that [needle exchange] programs reduce the spread of HIV and in no way increase drug use," Foust says.

"In order to treating addiction, you have to meet people where they are," she says, explaining that the needle exchanges are a good way to get addicts into the healthcare system to help them with all medical problems, especially addiction.

While the legislature debates this politically unpopular issue, Foust says, "People are getting infected; we don't have any time to lose."

Foust said DHHS's current estimate is that there are almost 29,000 people living with HIV or AIDS in North Carolina, with over 1,700 new cases reported every year for the past four years.

Foust says critics who say "somehow, we're encouraging drug use" are being "shortsighted."

"From the public health perspective, we've got to do whatever we can," Foust says. "It's time. North Carolina can do this."

 

Students and community activists are planning the N.C. AIDS March in support of legislation supporting needle exchanges on Friday, April 7, in downtown Raleigh starting at 11 a.m. at the Bicentennial Mall on Jones Street and making its way to the legislative building, where politicians and HIV-positive youth plan to speak.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in North Carolina



Twitter Activity

Comments

Ok. FIRST of all: NOBODY MAKES ANYONE come into these places!!!! I work in one and everyday people are complaining …

by workflow on Sweepstakes cafes: coming to your low-income neighborhood (North Carolina)

Id like to purchase one of these "doublewide" , if affordable, lost my place due to unreliable roommate, I'm trying …

by Roynell Tres Richardson on Abandoned mobile homes plague North Carolina (North Carolina)

Most Recent Comments

Ok. FIRST of all: NOBODY MAKES ANYONE come into these places!!!! I work in one and everyday people are complaining …

by workflow on Sweepstakes cafes: coming to your low-income neighborhood (North Carolina)

Id like to purchase one of these "doublewide" , if affordable, lost my place due to unreliable roommate, I'm trying …

by Roynell Tres Richardson on Abandoned mobile homes plague North Carolina (North Carolina)

Looking for a home for myself and my boys. I also have one on the way. I am in college …

by Amanda Sharek on Abandoned mobile homes plague North Carolina (North Carolina)

Have to disagree with ct. When did the N and O last provide strong city and county govt news coverage …

by Leanne Sigmon on The N&O Promises Less Spinach. What Does That Mean for Local News Consumers? (North Carolina)

I fear the N&O wants to bet its future on being the "newspaper of record" for state government and is …

by ct on The N&O Promises Less Spinach. What Does That Mean for Local News Consumers? (North Carolina)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation