U.S. News

North Carolina: Greensboro News & Record Profiles North Carolina Needle Exchange Program

August 21, 2003

The Greensboro News & Record on Tuesday profiled the Wright Focus Group, a not-for-profit organization in Guilford County, N.C., that runs a needle exchange program aimed at reducing the spread of HIV through injection drug use. The group's activities are in violation of the state's drug paraphernalia statutes, which carries a Class 1 misdemeanor offense. But Wright Focus workers say that they will continue to violate the law if it will help reduce the spread of HIV. The county's rate of new HIV cases -- 26 new cases for every 100,000 residents in 2001 -- is nearly twice that of the state's average for the same year, according to data from the Guilford County Department of Public Health. But in 2002, only two of the county's new cases were connected to injection drug use -- a small percentage of the estimated 5,000 injection drug users in the county, according to the News & Record. Scott Burris, a law professor at Temple University, said that prosecutors often decide not to prosecute, spending law enforcement resources in areas "where there's more bang-for-the-buck." Michael Harney and Marty Prairie, founders of the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville, have lobbied the state legislature to make needle exchange programs legal, but the legislation has not made it to the floor of the General Assembly, the News & Record reports. According to David Purchase, head of the North American Syringe Exchange Network, only 40% of exchange programs nationwide are protected under the law (Lagrone, Greensboro News & Record, 8/19).

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