Press Release NC Legislators Introduce Syringe Exchange Bill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Tessie Castillo
TEL: (919) 809-7718
North Carolina General Assembly Introduces Bill to Legalize Syringe Exchange Programs
On Thursday, April 28th, Senator Bingham (R) of Davidson County introduced Senate Bill 794, Authorize Needle Exchange Programs, to combat an alarming increase in hepatitis C spread through injection drug use. As of May 4th, 2016, Sen Cook (R), Sen J. Davis (R), Sen. Foushee (D), Sen. Hartsell (R), Sen. Robinson (D), Sen. Tucker (R), Sen Van Dyun (D) and Sen Waddell also co-sponsored the bill.
From 2010-2014 deaths from heroin overdose increased 565% across the state. As a consequence of the increase in injection drug use, hepatitis C, a liver disease spread primarily through the practice of sharing syringes to inject drugs, nearly tripled from 2010-2014. The cost to North Carolina has been substantial. While in 2013, North Carolina Medicaid doled out $8 million to pay for hepatitis C medication, in 2014 the costs rose to a staggering $51 million. The state paid $61 million in 2015.
The increase in injection drug use and hepatitis C has lead not only to higher taxpayer costs to treat these diseases, but also to a greater risk of needle-stick injury to law enforcement and members of the public who may encounter syringes discarded in as parks and public bathrooms. Additionally, families across the state are losing loved ones to addiction, drug overdose death and infectious diseases.
Senate Bill 794 would authorize governmental and nongovernmental agencies to establish syringe exchange programs, programs that pass out sterile syringes and collect used syringes from the community for safe disposal. Syringe exchanges also connect people who struggle with addiction to health care services, housing, career training, and drug treatment programs. While syringe exchange programs are currently illegal in North Carolina, other states where these programs operate have seen HIV transmission among injection drug users decrease by up to 80%, hepatitis C reduced by 50%, and needle-stick injury to law enforcement plummet by 66%. Additionally, studies show that people who participate in syringe exchange programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment than non-participants.
“Had it not been for outreach teams providing clean needles I wouldn’t have made the decision to get off drugs,” says Mike Page. Page currently lives in Wilmington, a city that according to one study suffers from one of the highest rates of heroin abuse in the country. He stopped using drugs after connecting with a syringe exchange program in Arizona. “[The people who ran the exchange] made me feel safe and showed me there is a better way to live. They told me about resources in the community and planted a seed in me of thinking about health and recovery every time I got needles from them. When I was ready to make a change, I knew where to go for help.”
Over 30 health departments, drug treatment centers and law enforcement agencies have signed a resolution in support of syringe exchange programs, including the North Carolina Public Health Association and the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors. S794 has bipartisan support among the legislators. Additionally, nearly two dozen North Carolina Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police have come out in support of syringe exchange programs.
"I support syringe exchange programs as a common sense tactic to address the issue of drug use in our communities,” says Chief Harold Medlock of the Fayetteville Police Department. “It's clear to me that these programs do not encourage drug use and that they can work in conjunction with the continuing enforcement of drug laws."
For a full list of law enforcement quotes and more fact sheets on syringe exchange programs visithttp://www.nchrc.org/syringe-exchange/factsheets-on-syringe-exchange/