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Syringe Access Victory in North Carolina

In the closing week of June, both branches of the North Carolina legislature passed H.B. 972, which would legalize syringe services programs (SSPs) in the state–as part of a bipartisan effort focused on the health of people who inject drugs, the communities they live in, and the safety of emergency and law enforcement personnel from accidental needlesticks. When signed by the Governor, the bill will allow the Department of Health and community-based organizations to legally distribute sterile-injection supplies, naloxone, and safely dispose of used needles.

The provisions legalizing SSPs, paired with a variety of other law enforcement regulations, have been advocated by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) for the last several years. Robert Childs, Executive Director of NCHRC, when asked about the bill by a local news outlet, stated:

“It’s going to help a lot of community-based organizations and health departments to help people in need, and it’s going to allow people to have a second chance in life. That’s what we’re all about. Let’s give them a second chance so they can reconnect with their family. They can reconnect with their loved ones and friends and get opportunities for recovery.”

In early June the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 220 counties most at-risk for an outbreak of HIV/HCV linked to injection-drug use like the one we saw last year in Scott County, Indiana. The highest concentration of vulnerable counties lay in central Appalachia, with several in western North Carolina. Legalized SSPs will be crucial in addressing that risk and preventing what could be an impending outbreak. This bill, if signed and passed, is coming at a crucial time. With the opioid crisis as a particular reason for passing the bill, it is also notable that this is a significant advance in a state legislature with a Republican majority. With a realistic strategy that respects and understands local conditions, syringe services proponents are able to make gains.

The provisions allowing for community-based organizations to distribute naloxone as part of their syringe access services is equally welcome. NCHRC spent years campaigning for expansive access to naloxone for people who inject drugs in the state, and their naloxone distribution program has reported playing a role in reversing 3,345 overdoses since its inception. While naloxone distribution was legalized in April of 2013 and has seen broad implementation since then, SSPs are excellent outreach tools for putting life-saving naloxone in the hands of the most at-risk injectors, and it is encouraging to see the North Carolina legislature recognized the opportunity presented here.

AIDS United applauds the advocacy efforts of Robert, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, and the many people working on the ground to insure that people who inject drugs in North Carolina have access to evidence-based interventions and prevention efforts. AIDS United is proud to support their advocacy and urges Governor Pat McCrory to sign the bill into law so that these programs can begin in earnest.

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Posted By: AIDS United Policy Department - Friday, July 01, 2016

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