March 21, 2017

Needle Exchanges: Approved By NCGA, But Scrutinized By W-S City Council?

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If you haven’t read much about Winston’s needle exchange collective, now is a good time to catch-up on the subject. Perhaps your ignorance is attributable to the Winston-Salem Journal‘s failure to adequately cover the topic. While our local paper of record has snoozed, Triad City Beat has given Winston’s needle exchange extensive coverage.

On March 1, Jonathan Michel wrote an in-depth article on The Twin City Harm Reduction Collective, a needle exchange program founded by Colin Miller and Erica Mishoe. TCB’s Jordan Green has written two follow-up pieces (1+2) on the Public Safety Committee’s suggestion at Monday’s meeting, that the location of needle exchanges should be regulated by the city. Councilman John Larson in particular has concerns with needle exchanges being allowed to operate in residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Larson appears to be over thinking the issue, his fears are unfounded. Needle exchanges are a public health issue, not a public safety issue. Opioid addiction continues to be a serious problem in our community. Ignoring the problem and adopting a “not in my neighborhood” approach to needle exchanges won’t do anything to address the issue. It will only make things worse.

Colin Miller, speaking before the Public Safety Committee Monday night refuted Larson’s objections. He made a strong case for the services that his needle exchange is providing the community. In just a few months, the work that Miller and Mishoe have done has already helped many addicts in our community. You can listen to Miller’s statements at the 15:10 and 23:15 minute marks. It’s clear that Mr. Miller knows far more about needle exchanges than any of the council members on the Public Safety Committee.

If the city council were to push The Twin City Harm Reduction Collective out of the West Salem neighborhood they would in all likelihood be closing Winston’s only needle exchange. When North Carolina legalized needle exchanges last year, they forbid needle exchanges from receiving any government funding. That makes locating a needle exchange in a non-residential area financially unfeasible.

Winston’s first and only needle exchange provides clean needles to addicts as well as information on drug treatment and other services. In addition to reducing the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C, as well as reducing accidental needle-sticking among first responders, the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective is step one towards humanizing the treatment of drug addiction here in Winston.

The collective has been operating out of Green Street Methodist since early December of last year. In just a short time their work has helped many addicts without endangering the residents of West Salem. The needle exchange complements Green Street’s other charitable programs; health screenings, clothing closet, food pantry, etc. Some of the folks who have gotten food or clothes from Green Street over the years have in all likelihood been intravenous drug users. Neighbors in West Salem haven’t complained about giving away food or cloths to the poor.

But when local activists volunteered their time to give clean needles to addicts, a vocal minority of the neighborhood erupts in hysteria. Though I have no evidence, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fear of a nearby needle exchange were coming from the Bible-thumpers down the street at Piedmont Bible College and Salem Baptist. Those conservatives love meddling in the affairs of others.

The Winston-Salem City Council shouldn’t listen to a vocal minority on this topic. Drug addiction is a serious problem in our community. Needle exchanges provide a cheap, but important service to addicts and save taxpayers in the long run. Needle exchanges are regulated by the state. No further local regulation is required at this time.

Needle exchange legislation was passed by our state’s GOP-dominated General Assembly in July of last year. If even the Republicans in Raleigh can see that needle exchanges aren’t a threat to the public, why is Councilman Larson so worried by the presence of a needle exchange in his ward?

 

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