NEEDLE EXCHANGE PILOT PROGRAM DROPPED
RALEIGH -- Lawmakers dropped a needle exchange program as quickly as if they had been pricked.
Programs giving clean needles to intravenous drug users in exchange for used ones made it into the state House and Senate budget plans. But the Senate on Wednesday followed the House's lead in discarding them before passing a budget. Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who championed the plan in the Senate, pointed out that legislators would surely rush to support treatments for other diseases.
"But when we look at the No. 1 consensus way to control the spread of AIDS," the Buncombe County Democrat said, "we all dive under our chairs." The programs are aimed at reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Nesbitt's plan would have the state health director authorize up to three pilot programs in communities where local officials agree. Participants would have immunity from prosecution under laws banning drug paraphernalia.
Opponents said the programs would amount to a government endorsement of drug use. Sen. James Forrester said the only way to curb the spread of AIDS is through sex education. Giving needles to drug addicts is "like giving a kid who likes to start fires matches," the Gaston County Republican said. To the contrary, said Michael Harney, coordinator of the Needle Exchange Program of Asheville, people who use the program are trying to leave drugs behind. Some are on a waiting list for treatment.
Harney delivers or mails them sterile needles, alcohol swabs, bandages, tourniquets and even drug cookers, he said -- all in violation of state law. "Until we get off our moral high horses," Harney said of lawmakers, "we are really being immoral."[/FONT]