City Council considering needle exchange ordinance

City Council considering needle exchange ordinance
April 13
08:00 2017



The Winston-Salem City Council is considering ordinances that would regulate needle exchange programs.

Green Street United Methodist Church, located in the West Salem neighborhood, has been hosting a needle and syringe exchange by Twin City Harm Reduction Collective since December. City Council Member John Larson said he’d heard concerns from some in the neighborhood about the exchange. He said he supported exchanges, but felt that they needed to be regulated by the city, especially as others may open up.

Exchanges became legal in the state in July as an attempt to reduce disease transmission and other problems that stem from intravenous drug use.

“I don’t think doing nothing is an option here,” said Larson, who was elected to represent the South Ward last year. “I think we’re going to have to have clarity and transparency in how this function is laid into our landscape.”

Last month, a draft ordinance was presented in the public safety committee that would have used zoning to prevent exchanges from being in residential areas. During Monday’s meeting, more options were presented. One was an ordinance allowing them to operate in a special use district approved by City Council. The other was a special use permit granted by the council in quasi-judicial hearings that council members wouldn’t be able to discuss outside the meeting.  All three options would allow an existing exchange to continue operating as it currently is until June 2019.

Larson made a motion to go with the special use district option, but there wasn’t a second among the other council members, so the motion died. The matter was tabled until next month’s public safety meeting.

Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said he was concerned about what could be done if problems arise at exchanges, but felt they served a vital function and should be welcome anywhere in the city. Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke and Council Member James Taylor said they also recognized their value.

The public comments at the meeting supported the exchange. Neighborhood resident Corinne Causby said at first she was skeptical but, after learning more about it, she felt it was helping the community. She said there’s been no increase of traffic and no reason to fear for the safety of her and her family.

“It’s encouraging to me that people in our neighborhood are getting access to clean needles,” she said.

Green Street Pastor Kelly Carpenter said the city shouldn’t be restricting a legal activity, saying that zoning was used for segregation and discrimination in the past.

“As a community of faith, we wonder how City Council members feel about the government trying to tell us who can be in ministry in our building?” said Carpenter.

Tessie Castillo with the Harm Reduction Coalition, which advocated for needle exchange legalization, said it provides a service by incinerating used needle, but also gives those struggling with addiction access to social services, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, and drug treatment referrals.

“That’s the one place that can and does connect them to social services,” she said. “We’ve seen that people who participate in syringe exchanges are five times more likely to enter drug treatment than people who do not.”

Collin Miller, who founded the exchange, said he didn’t want any city regulation on the exchanges that would burden the volunteer-run exchanges and those who use them. He said the exchange also gives away the drug naloxone, which has been used to prevent 26 overdoses.

“That’s 26 human lives in four months time,” he said.

State law does regulate exchanges, requiring them to dispose of used needles, to provide free syringes, needles and naloxone, and to give out educational materials on overdose prevention, HIV and hepatitis prevention and treatment options.

Exchanges are also required to report their activities to the state health department and provide local law enforcement with security plans for the site. The law also restricts public funds from being used to buy needles and syringes.

Castillo said afterward that no other municipality in the state is trying to regulate exchanges with zoning ordinances.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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