Last Monday’s Winston-Salem City Council meeting was pretty uneventful. I’m still focused on the city council’s syringe exchange zoning debate. Every day there seems to be another headline that reminds us that we’re witnessing an opioid epidemic. Yet, for some reason, the city council continues to hassle the city’s only syringe exchange.
Earlier this week, The Journal reported that Forsyth County saw the largest increase in opioid-related deaths in North Carolina’s urban counties between 2005 and 2015. Forsyth County saw a four-fold increase in opioid deaths during that period. A couple days ago N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein met with community leaders to discuss the problem.
According to The Journal, A.G. Stein didn’t have a lot of solutions to the complex problem of opioid addiction. Everyone agrees that more money is needed for treatment. Indeed, we should be doing more on the federal and state level to help opioid addicts. Opioid addiction is a huge public health issue, it should be treated as such.
Apparently, the issue of syringe exchanges wasn’t discussed at the meeting. North Carolina should be funding syringe exchanges. But they’re unlikely to do that as long as conservative Republicans control the North Carolina General Assembly. North Carolina legalized syringe exchanges last year, but they prohibited syringe exchanges in North Carolina from receiving any government funds.
That’s why Winston’s only syringe exchange, the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective (TCHRC) operates out of Green Street Methodist instead of an office building. Collin Miller and the volunteers that staff the syringe exchange don’t have the funding to open a clinic in a commercial area. Council Member John Larson’s attempts to place zoning restrictions on syringe exchanges in Winston is beyond unnecessary, it’s an existential threat to Winston’s sole syringe exchange.
Go back and listen to the city council’s public safety meeting, earlier this month. The debate is interesting. No one flatly opposes syringe exchanges. Larson speaks positively about the need for syringe exchanges, as he postures to cut Winston’s syringe exchange off at the knees. Many West Salem neighbors spoke in support of the TCHRC. Neighbors who spoke out against a syringe exchange being in their neighborhood, went out of their way to say that they weren’t against syringe exchanges.
They just didn’t want a syringe exchange in their neighborhood. The disgruntled West Salem neighbors are a bunch of liberals who quickly transform into reactionary conservatives when they feel their tax values are threatened. But these neighbors need to relax. West Salem might be the perfect neighborhood to support a syringe exchange.
West Salem is doing pretty well. It’s future looks pretty bright in no small part due to the work of the Winston-Salem City Council. Remember, West Salem has profited greatly from BB&T Ballpark’s presence. For the rest of the city, a $48 million ballpark (owned by the city, leased to the Dash) that doesn’t pay property taxes is an outrage. But for West Salem it’s a pretty sweet deal. Continued development around BB&T Ballpark should boast West Salem’s property values for years to come.
West Salem will also benefit from the redevelopment of Business 40. Creative Corridors, the non-profit whose goal is to make Winston’s roadway’s a reflection of the city’s arts and innovation slogan, is planning a pedestrian bridge at Green Street. It’s very unlikely that Creative Corridors would have been able to build a beautiful pedestrian bridge on Green Street without the encouragement and financial support of the Winston-Salem City Council.
In addition to bringing investment into West Salem, the city council shut down the cheap motel on Broad Street a couple years ago. That motel was a magnet for drug use and all types of vice. By contrast, there is not evidence that syringe exchange correlates with a rise in any criminal activity.
If we remember all that the city council has done in recent years for West Salem, there’s really no cause for any neighbors around Green Street Methodist to be disgruntled. The city council needs to remove syringe exchange zoning restrictions from its agenda. They should be thinking Collin Miller and all the volunteers at Twin City Harm Reduction Collective that are saving lives, preventing the spread of disease and encouraging opioid addicts to get treatment.