Safety Tools for Officers
Law enforcement officers, according to one study have as high as a 1 in 3 chance of getting a needlestick during their careers. In North Carolina it is possible for officers to suffer multiple needlesticks in the span of a month; national rates show that 28% of officers get two or more needlesticks during their careers. Fortunately, law enforcement exposure to potentially contaminated needles can be prevented. NCHRC conducts law enforcement trainings all over the state to teach officers how to avoid needlesticks and to advocate for syringe decriminalization, honest conversations between syringe carriers and law enforcement and the safe collection of biohazard. Currently, officers who are pricked by potentially contaminated needles undergo expensive post-exposure prophylaxis treatments to prevent the acquisition of HIV or hepatitis, which costs police/sheriff departments and taxpayers money. With preventative measures such as syringe decriminalization, fewer needlesticks occur and departments have more funds available for officer benefits and department supplies.
Many officers are concerned that syringe decriminalization may encourage drug use, increase drug networks, or lead to higher crime rates, however all studies have proven this NOT to be true. A recent study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) demonstrated that decriminalizing syringes do not increase drug use or crime and in multiple cases are actually associated with a decrease in both activities, which lowers the numbers of encounters between officers and injection drug users and thus the incidence of needle-sticks. A recent case study in Baltimore reported that in neighborhoods where there was syringe decriminalization and syringe access was prioritized experienced an 11% decrease in crime compared to those without such policies, who suffered an 8% increase in criminal activity.
Syringe decriminalization programs are a centerpiece of efforts to protect the health and safety of police officers and the public and to reduce the transmission of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. Since the implementation of these policies in the late 1980s, new HIV infections among injection drug users have declined overall by 80%. Syringe decriminalization also have important health benefits for law enforcement personnel, who have responded positively to training on harm reduction and syringe decriminalization advocacy. By effectively addressing injection drug use, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS through cooperative partnership, we can better protect law enforcement, public health providers and communities in North Carolina.
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