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North Carolina continues its 'harm reduction' push for people dealing with drug addiction

"It's hard at first getting people to trust me and to believe that the exchange is legal and we are not working for the cops."

- Jessie Garner of the Fayetteville syringe exchange

Jessie Garner's trouble getting people to trust him seems typical of a society that has long punished people for drug use. Drug possession (not to mention selling and distributing) has been a crime for decades, punishable by jail time and a job-denying criminal record.

Where it gets tricky is the intersection of prescription opioid-based painkillers and heroin. Put simply, both are essentially made of the same stuff. One is legal; the other is not, and probably never will be, at least not in our lifetimes.

The North Carolina syringe exchange program is the "antidote," so to speak, to this double standard.

What is a syringe exchange?

For those who use hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine - or who are dealing with addiction to prescription painkillers - the syringe exchange is exactly what it sounds like. At a variety of places throughout North Carolina, counting 26 different locations ranging from churches to pawn shops, people can get access to clean syringes.

But that's not all.

Harm reduction by the numbers

Here are the stats for 2016-2017 (per the Huffington Post):

  • One million syringes distributed
  • 2,000 overdose reversals
  • 3,500 drug treatment referrals
  • 2,600 HIV tests

The numbers don't lie. There is clearly a need for such a program. And these are the numbers from just one year of operation.

As per the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition:

"[T]he exchanges usher in a new way of approaching people who use drugs - one that emphasizes compassionate, evidence-based solutions over the purely punitive policies of the past."

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