Letter writer: N.C. needs needle-exchange law

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Statistics show that] 51 percent of nonmentally ill inmates were abusing drugs at the time of their offense. This country needs comprehensive drug reform in order to begin to reform the prison system, and in turn reduce the cost to taxpayers — which is currently an astounding $1.1 billion.

The societal cost of addiction is far too great, and far more can be done to prevent the devastating effects it has on families and communities. Addiction puts others at risk — through things like drunk driving, theft to financially support addiction, homelessness and staggering health care costs.

The first step to combating addiction is to treat it like the health problem it is. There needs to be steps taken toward harm reduction, not toward further shame and criminalization of the subject.

One step which needs to be taken on the subject of harm reduction is the needle exchanges. Needle exchanges, though often demonized, allow outreach to some of the most unreachable portions of the population addicted to drugs and prevent those individuals from catching deadly blood-borne diseases before they can get the help they need. Needle exchanges allow people suffering from crippling addictions dignity and respect — one of the first steps in encouraging them to get help.

Needle exchanges often have on-site counseling and addiction services, many of which are so effective that those who get clean continue to go to the same place because it was the first one to treat them with respect.

North Carolina needs more needle exchanges and legislation to support them. Currently, proprietors of needle exchanges can be held liable for minuscule amounts of drugs in the used needles they take in. There are only four needle exchanges in North Carolina at the time of this writing.

Senate Bill 794, for authorized needle exchange programs is currently in the N.C. Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate. It would allow exchanges to be run without liability, to educate individuals on proper harm-reduction techniques and to distribute overdose antidote kits. This is the first step toward reform we need, to give people the help they need.

— Ben Marsico


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