Legislation passed last year (House Bill 850) will help protect the safety of our police officers by reducing their potential exposure to hypodermic needle-stick incidents during an arrest or search. Representative Presnell supported the bill.
The new law provides that if, during a search, a person voluntarily alerts an officer to the presence of a hypodermic needle (or other sharp object, including for example, a broken crack pipe) on the person’s premises, or in the person’s vehicle or on the person’s person — and the person alerts the officer of that fact prior to the search of his or her person — the person will not be personally charged with or prosecuted for possession of drug paraphernalia.
The new law is supported by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.
The idea is to encourage people who are being searched to be honest with officers about any dangerous drug paraphernalia they may have in their possession in order to protect them from both the injuries that result from being punctured or cut and the infectious diseases that can be spread through exposure to dirty needles (such as HIV and Hepatitis C).
According to research reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, nearly 30 percent of metro law-enforcement officers surveyed (803) had been stuck by a needle at least once in their careers.
A recent study published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence (a peer-reviewed scientific journal on biomedical and psychosocial approaches to addiction) reports that the majority of officers in North Carolina had a positive view of syringe decriminalization, with around 63 percent saying it would be “good for the community” and 60 percent saying it would be “good for law enforcement.” The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reports that in states which have decriminalized syringes, incidents of needlestick injuries have been reduced by as much as two-thirds.1
The study’s lead author, Corey Davis, an attorney with the Network for Public Health Law says that, “Syringe decriminalization is good policy. Since law enforcement opinion carries a lot of weight in the legislature, this study suggests that it’s good politics as well.”
“I would rather every addict come out and admit to having a needle” said Sergeant David Rose of the Winston-Salem Police Department, “than for one person not to tell the truth and have one of our officers get stuck.”2
Bob Scott, a former Captain with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, put it in financial terms in an open letter: “A great benefit of syringe decriminalization would be a decrease in law enforcement getting exposures to HIV and hepatitis. When an officer gets HIV, their estimated lifetime medical costs is $618,000 and up to $120,000 if they need to get treated for hepatitis. Hepatitis C, which is the leading cause of liver transplants in North Carolina. If an officer needs to get a liver transplant due to their hepatitis C infection, it costs around $400,000 to get a liver transplant and $100,000 for anti-organ rejection medications.”
A similar bill (House Bill 601) was introduced in the 2011-12 session, but stalled in committee and was never voted on. HB850 passed last year with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers; the bill was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on July 19, 2013, and took effect December 1, 2013.
- North Carolina Health News, “House Passes Syringe Bill”
- North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, “NC Law Enforcement Support Syringe Decriminalization”