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NC bill would allow needle exchange program for drug users

By WFMY - DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Senator Stan Bingham has again introduced legislation to authorize governmental agencies to create hypodermic syringe and needle exchange programs.

If passed, drug users would able to exchange a used needle for a clean one. The details have not been worked out yet but these exchange programs will likely be run out of the county health departments.

Related: 4 NC towns in top 20 nationally for opioid abuse, study finds

"The initial thing, they go in, they want the needles, but they would also give them information about if you want to get clean or if you want to get some help with the problem you have, they'd have places and names and people they could see and give them a lot of information," said Senator Stan Bingham, R-Davidson County.

Senator Bingham says the purpose of this law is to stop the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users. He says Hepatitis-C cases have grown by 525 percent in North Carolina over the last 5 years.

"I've been told that sometimes these needles are used as many as 250 times," said Senator Bingham. "People will pick them out of trash cans and you end up with HIV positive, Hepatitis C all types of blood borne diseases."

The bill would offer limited immunity to drug users who participate in the program.

"There's an incorrect assumption that providing syringes to people would cause them to use more drugs but syringe exchange programs have been around for decades in other states including Kentucky and West Virginia and we know from evidence it does not increase drug use at all, said Tessie Castillo, NC harm Reduction Coalition"

People cannot be charged or prosecuted for possession of "needles, hypodermic syringes, or other injection supplies obtained from or returned to a program" established by the law. They are also free from prosecution if "residual amounts of a controlled substance contained in a used needle, used hypodermic syringe, or used injection supplies" is found returned to one of the programs established by the law.

"This is a health issue. This is not about letting anyone who has a drug addiction problem go free or get out of jail free kind of thing," said Senator Bingham.

Senator Bingham introduced similar legislation in 2007 but it failed. This time, he believes he has the support to pass the law.

"The health departments are strongly in favor of this as well as the American Medical Association," said Senator Bingham.

Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes is also in support of it.

"I think it's a good bill. I think it's a positive bill."

He added, "I think this is a positive step towards trying to stop HIV/AIDS and also a positive thing for public safety."

Sheriff Barnes says his officers are often at risk when confronting drug users.

"It puts my officers in harms way because basically what it comes down to is that they're keeping these needles on hand. My officers end up stopping them, searching them then the next thing you know, there's a stick and that's not a good thing. The officer has to go through testing, has to go through make sure everything is as it should be," explained Sheriff Barnes.

The bill is scheduled for a first reading Monday. To read the bill, click here.

CBS North Carolina contributed to this article.

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