NC Harm Reduction Coalition's Law Enforcement Safety Training Program Saving Drug User and Law Enforcement Lives
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition Law Enforcement Safety Training Program
The relationship between law enforcement and drug users is not always positive, but fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is working to bring drug users and law enforcement together by educating both groups on public health initiatives to protect each other from blood borne disease such as hepatitis C and HIV.
NCHRC has been educating drug users and sex workers on how to reduce disease through safer drug use since 2004. In 2010, we launched a law enforcement training program on needlestick prevention, drug overdose recognition and officer safety. Thanks to generous funding by AIDS United and the Drug Policy Alliance, we have been able to expand our training program to members of over 30 departments in North Carolina in 2012, allowing us to provide a critical and often absent link between drug users and law enforcement. As long as drug users suffer high incidence of blood borne disease, officers are in greater danger because of their frequent contact with populations who may be carrying syringes or other drug paraphernalia.
NCHRC is traveling across North Carolina to train officers on how to protect themselves from accidental needlesticks when working with drug using populations. Research has shown that one in three officers can expect to receive a needlestick during their career, this is an important health and safety issue in our state. During the training, officers are taught how blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis C can hide out on all drug paraphernalia, including crack pipes, filters, spoons, bottle caps, belts, shoelaces, antennae, water, or any items that may come in contact with blood. Additionally, officers learn how to respond if they come across a drug overdose in neighborhoods with high opioid use and what to do in the case of an accidental needlestick.
According to surveys collected at the law enforcement workshops NCHRC has ran, officers are responding positively to the trainings and are showing greater support for syringe decriminalization laws. Syringe decriminalization would take syringes off the list of paraphernalia and according to academic research has shown to reduce needle-sticks to officers by 66% in areas where such laws have been enacted. Syringe decriminalization reduces needlesticks because drug users are more likely to declare a syringe during a search if they will not be arrested for possession. In Elizabeth City, 80% of officers believed after the training that syringe decriminalization would lead to safer communities and 83% believed that such laws would increase safety for law enforcement. Also, after the training 14% fewer officers stated that they would likely arrest someone for possession of clean syringes with no drug residue.
Law enforcement attitudes towards syringe decriminalization are changing as more officers realize that cracking down on paraphernalia alone only encourages users to share contaminated equipment, putting both users and officers at greater risk for disease. The response from law enforcement to needlestick prevention is encouraging and indicates a greater willingness to consider public health along with safety. As Officer D.A. Jackson of the Greensboro Sheriff’s Office states, “Drug addiction is a serious problem, but I believe in helping people. Harm reduction is a win-win situation because not only do these programs help protect officers from needlesticks, they also create an opportunity for dialogue that can lead to rehabilitation for drug users. It’s important for officers to see themselves as part of creating solutions to community issues, and not just booking crimes.”
More and more members of the North Carolina law enforcement community, after attending our training, have decided to get more involved in advocacy around syringe decriminalization. These individuals have spoken out on the need to decrease needlesticks through cost-effective measures such as syringe decriminalization. They have met with and/or called their legislators, participated in call-ins & write-ins to legislators, spoken about syringe decriminalization with their fellow officers and signed petitions to send to their represenatives asking for policy change. Bob Scott, former Captain with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office states on this issue, “Syringe decriminalization takes dirty needles off the streets by allowing drug users and diabetics to dispose of syringes legally and therefore increases the safety of our police officers. Syringe decriminalization saves money and lives, protects law enforcement from needlesticks, and increases public safety. Scientific research strongly supports this policy, as do many in law enforcement. Now is the time to lift legal barriers to decriminalizing syringes.” This issue is not going away and thus law enforcement are getting more involved. They have recently assisted NCHRC in planning The Summit on Law Enforcement Safety and Drug Policy that will be held June 12th, 2012 at the NC Legislature. If you are interested in learning more about the summit or attending it, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/NCdrugpolicy
Go to NCHRC’s Law Enforcement page on its website: http://www.nchrc.org/law-enforcement-safety
Read about NCHRC’s Law Enforcement Training Team: Robert Childs, Tessie Castillo, Ronald Martin and Jen Earls at: http://www.nchrc.org/about/nchrc-staff/
HOW TO BOOK A TRAINING:
Contact Robert Childs, Robert@nchrc.net, 336-543-8050
HOW MUCH DOES THE TRAINING COST?
The training is free to all North Carolina Law Enforcement
1.) Lorentz, J., Hill, J. & Samini, B. “Occupational needle stick injuries in a metropolitan police force,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 18, 2000, p. 146–150.
2.) Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), “Fact Sheet: Public Safety, Law Enforcement, and Syringe Exchange,” May 2011,
3.) Groseclose, S.L. et al., “Impact of increased legal access to needles and syringes on practices of injecting-drug users and police officers—Connecticut, 1992-1993,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology, vol. 10. no. 1, 1995, p. 82–89.
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