hands Preparing a flu shot.
Preparing a flu shot. Image courtesy Steven Depolo flickr creative commons

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A pilot project would make it easier to dispose of needles used for drug injection without fear of penalty.

By Rose Hoban

The North Carolina House of Representatives approved a bill Monday that would create a pilot project in several counties to make it easier to dispose of needles that have been used to inject illegal drugs.

“Once the needle is used, then either the person is so dependent on that needle that they put it in their pocket and keep it or they throw it aside,” said bill sponsor Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point) during the House Health Committee meeting Monday afternoon. “They turn up in parks, they turn up in trash cans, they turn up in the pockets of addicts.”

With each use, needles develop more holes and crevices in them that can contain traces of blood. Photo courtesy N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition

According to Faircloth, the idea behind House Bill 712 is that members of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition would work with the State Bureau of Investigation to find places where addicted people can dispose of needles without fear of being prosecuted. There they would jointly set up a mechanism for people to surrender their needles without penalty.

The yearlong pilot project would be launched in two selected counties, and if it is successful would be expanded to other counties and eventually statewide.

Faircloth, who is a former sheriff, has said he supports the bill because it protects law enforcement officers.

“This [bill] goes a step further to not only protect the officers, but it will protect the general public from exposure to these needles,” he said, “Particularly in parks where children gather.”

The bill also has the support of the public health community that seeks to reduce the harm to addicts by the use of injection drugs.

For years, public health advocates have pushed for people who use illegal drugs to have safer ways to use them. So-called harm reduction measures, such as this bill, are intended to help drug users stay alive and healthy long enough that when they eventually are ready to quit using injection drugs, they won’t be too sick to benefit from quitting.

“If we go to them and ask for their syringes, they give them to us,” said Tessie Castillo from the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

Castillo told the committee that volunteers from her organization have also gone into areas where there is frequent drug use and picked up needles off the street and from places where people gather to use injection drugs.

“It’s basically a trust relationship,” Castillo said.

Mark Ezzell from Addiction Professionals of North Carolina said his group supports the bill.

“These needle programs help keep people safe and mitigate the impact of communicable disease,” Ezzell said. “We think it’ll make a substantial impact in the communities where it’ll be done and on public health.

“We know they work.”

The bill is a companion to a measure passed during the last legislative session that makes it possible for addicts to hand over needles to a police officer while they’re being searched without fear of penalty or prosecution.

Faircloth told the House Health Committee Monday afternoon that the bill also ties into the SBI’s existing program that allows for easier disposal of prescription drugs at many of the state’s sheriffs’ offices.

The bill now goes to the Senate for final approval.

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