In response to Ben Marsico’s letter [on] June 1, “N.C. Needs Needle-exchange Law” [Xpress]: Correct my rationale, please, if I am wrong about North Carolina Senate Bill 794: Authorize Needle Exchange Programs (short title). It was recently introduced at the North Carolina General Assembly and even co-sponsored by Sen. [Terry] Van Duyn, along with other Democrats and Republicans.
As the coordinator of the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville, I am dismayed and perplexed that with all the bureaucratic verbiage in SB 794, not a single dollar is authorized for the purchase of needles and syringes, yet in Section 2 of the bill, $100,000 is appropriated “from the General Fund to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health … for the 2016-2017 fiscal year … to perform the review of needle-exchange programs and report information required to be submitted to the Department …”
It is as bad as the federal budget submitted in December of 2015, in which Congress acted by lifting the ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs, though excluding the purchase of any syringes with those dollars!
What is the point?!
Last year, NEPA provided access to over 239,000 free needles/syringes to people who reported coming from 26 different counties. The demand is ever increasing among all sorts of people from just about every demographic imaginable. Senate Bill 794 would be more helpful by simply assuring that anyone who wants to purchase a needle or syringe at a convenient pharmacy be allowed to do so without stigma, harassment or challenge; that needle-exchange programs be authorized in all health departments, AIDS service organizations or at other social service agencies to provide free needles and syringes to people who may not be able to afford them; and for those who may wish to seek drug-use treatment options, they be offered “treatment on demand.” That is where dollars need to be appropriated. This is a public health imperative!
Support your local needle-exchange program any way you are able, and tell your state senators and representatives to get real about a scientifically proven method to reduce the spread of blood-borne pathogens by writing a better bill!
— Michael J. Harney Jr.
Coordinator, Needle Exchange Program of Asheville