Feature: Marchers Take to the Streets to Demand Legal Needle Exchanges in North Carolina 4/14/06

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!


http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/431/ncnepbill.shtml

Bills that would allow for legal needle exchange programs (NEPs) in North Carolina have been languishing since 1997, but this year, the push is on to get one through the legislature. Last Friday, in the most visible manifestation yet of that intensified effort, around 150 people marched on the governor's mansion to demand he make it a priority in this year's short legislative session.

courtesy North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition

Organized by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and the University of North Carolina chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, the march was only part of a two-day series of events centered on campus and designed to highlight the issue and educate students and the broader community about the solid science showing that NEPs work to lower HIV and Hepatitis C infection rates among injection drug users. The effort is in support of a bill introduced by Rep. Thomas Wright (D), HB 411, which would create three community-based, pilot needle exchange programs; make participants, volunteers and employees of needle exchanges immune from prosecution for carrying syringes; and allocate $550,000 to fund the programs and a study of the program's effects.

"Rep. Wright introduces this bill every year, and it goes nowhere because it's a political hot potato, but now is the time to get it passed," said Thelma Wright of the NC Harm Reduction Coalition. "This is not about helping people take drugs, this is about helping them stay healthy until they can quit taking drugs. That's what needle exchanges and harm reduction are all about," she told DRCNet.

And that's why people marched, she said. "It was us and the Student Global Aids Campaign. It was supposed to be young people, but it turned into everybody's march. A lot of young people came out and let the governor and the legislature know how they feel about these issues, and I am really heartened by the turnout. I never dreamed we would have this many people."

Even if the bill passes, there are still obstacles to overcome. The bill requires that a county's board of commissioners, the local board of health, health director and director of mental health or substance abuse services all sign a letter of support to the state health director in order to get a pilot program approved.

So far, Guilford County is the only county to have the needed support for a pilot needle exchange -- and that's no coincidence. Guilford County is the home of one of the state's two unsanctioned NEPs, which Wright operated between 1999 and 2004 before turning it over to her successors. "It was underground but no secret," she said. "We never had a problem with the police, and the county sheriff said that while he would arrest us if he had to, he supported the program. And he never arrested us. I've been talking to the county health board about this issue since 1997, and they know the score, too," she said.

courtesy North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition

"Educating people about NEPs is about science versus ideology," Wright said. "Guilford County officials understand this, and now I'm going around the state trying to educate more people. Some people say they have a moral problem with it, but if you look at it in terms of morality, it wins there, too. Anytime you can stop someone from getting a disease and you don't, that's not just immoral, that's downright criminal."

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, HIV infections caused by injection drug use make up only about 6% of all new infections, but with some 18,000 HIV and AIDS cases in the state, that means about 100 cases could have been prevented by using clean needles. The number of infections caused by shooting up with dirty needles could be much higher; in nearly one-third of cases reported in the state, the means of infection is listed as unknown.

The department supports the NEP bill. "There is strong evidence nationally that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV and in no way increase drug use," said Evelyn Foust, the department's state AIDS director. "In order to treat addiction, you have to meet people where they're at," she told DRCNet. "People are getting infected; we don't have any time to lose."

"Department of Health and Human Services Director Carmen Hooker Odom supports needle exchange, too," said Wright. "We have a letter from her saying she does. I'll be waving that around the legislature."

But Gov. Mike Easley (R) does not support it, and his support is critical to getting the bill included in this year's short session on the budget. While he is recommending increased funding for "comprehensive" HIV prevention, his budget request does not include needle exchange programs. His office did not want to talk about his position, instead referring DRCNet to Health and Human Services.

"The governor doesn't want this -- no needle exchange or harm reduction," said Wright. "That's why we marched to his mansion. We wanted to let him know loud and clear that you're not doing prevention unless you're doing it for everybody. Needle exchange is prevention and prevention is needle exchange," she said.

Support for the bill is building, with groups like the Women's Health Organization and the Minority AIDS Council putting it on their legislative agendas. But right now, the bill is parked in the House Appropriations Committee.

Still, Wright was confident this will be the year. "I certainly do think we can get this through, and it's about time. We need to help stop people from getting sick."

-- END --
Link to Drug War Facts
Please make a generous donation to support Drug War Chronicle in 2007!          

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Issue #431 -- 4/14/06

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!

Feature: ACLU Seeks Dismissal of "Operation Meth Merchant" Cases for Racial Bias | Feature: Marchers Take to the Streets to Demand Legal Needle Exchanges in North Carolina | Guest Editorial: Injustice in Massachusetts -- Two Years in Jail for One Joint | Offer: Important New Legalization Video Available | Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle? | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Marijuana: Alaska Governor's Effort to Recriminalize Marijuana Passes One More Hurdle | Law Enforcement: In Widely Criticized Sting, Undercover Blonde Cop Snares Massachusetts High School Boys | Treatment Not Jail: California Saving Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Thanks to Proposition 36, Reports Say | Europe: Scottish Cops Say Legalize It All | Law Enforcement: Agent Who Shot Himself in Foot Sues DEA for Making Him Look Silly | Marijuana: Nevada Initiative Faces Uphill Battle, Poll Says | Drugged Driving: British Study Finds One-Third of Drivers Who Test Positive for Drugs Pass Roadside Impairment Tests | Asset Forfeiture: Feds Try to Seize Drug Suspects' Dental Work | Latin America: Coca-Friendly Candidate Wins First Round of Peru Presidential Election | Web Scan: Delaware's Former Top Cop Asks the Legalization Question, Cato's Radley Balko on SWAT Dog Killings | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Field Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Washington, DC | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
Chronicle archives
Subscribe now!
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en EspaŮol Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em PortuguÍs Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 [email protected]