Needle exchange program could be coming to NC

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A new bill might make it easier for drug abusers to receive clean needles. It could also save taxpayers money.

Senate lawmakers sent the bill to a committee Monday night for members to take a deeper look at what would create a state-sponsored way to exchange dirty needles.

“We get ahead of this, start getting clean syringes and getting people into treatment appropriately so they can stop using these drugs in the future,” said Dr. John Morrow, Director of Pitt County Public Health.

That’s the idea of the new bill in North Carolina. If passed, drug users would be able to exchange a used needle for a clean one at no cost and with no penalty.

Morrow says it could break popular myths.

“People think that if you give somebody a syringe, they’re more likely to use drugs. And that’s actually been tested and proven not to be true. In fact, you help get people who are addicted to drugs into appropriate treatment,” said Morrow.

Studies conducted by the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization show states with similar laws in place have decreased drug use.

North Carolina’s bill would provide a pathway to connect abusers with treatment plans when they turn in dirty needles. That’s beneficial for law enforcement.

“There’s been numerous occasions when we’re searching a vehicle and come across an empty needle, and usually if they have one, there’s more. So with us going under seats, and in between seats, there’s a high potential of us actually getting stuck,” said Lieutenant Eric Todd of the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

Exchange programs reduce the potential spread of HIV and other diseases. In North Carolina, Hepatitis C cases increased by 525 percent in the past five years, and that is costing taxpayers money.

“Right now, we’re spending a lot of money taking care of chronic Hepatitis C patients. If we can prevent those cases from occurring, we’re going to save a lot of money, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Morrow.

According to the bill, if someone exchanges a needle with residual amounts of any drugs, they cannot be charged or prosecuted. Other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, have similar programs.

Some lawmakers in North Carolina tried to get similar legislation passed in 2007, but it failed. Many told 9 On Your Side that it’s expected to pass this time around.

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