A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports on North Carolina law enforcement attitudes toward syringe decriminalization, or removing syringes from the list of prohibited drug paraphernalia. The study analyzed the responses of 350 North Carolina law enforcement officers to a confidential, anonymous survey regarding their experience with needle-stick injury, perceived risk of HIV and hepatitis C risk, and opinions on whether the state should consider syringe decriminalization as a tool to reduce needle-related injury among law enforcement.
82% of respondents reported that they were very concerned about contracting HIV on the job and 3.8% reported ever receiving a job-related needle-stick injury. These injuries typically occur when an officer conducts a search and is accidentally pierced by a syringe, which may be contaminated with HIV or viral hepatitis. A study of law enforcement officers in Connecticut revealed that decriminalizing syringes can lower needle-stick injury to officers by 66% because it removes a suspect’s fear of syringe possession and increases the likelihood that they will tell officers they have syringes before being searched.
The majority of officers in the North Carolina study reported positive views regarding syringe decriminalization, with approximately 63% agreeing that it would be “good for the community” and 60% agreeing that it would be “good for law enforcement.”
The study’s lead author, Corey Davis, JD, MSPH, an attorney with the Network for Public Health Law says, “Syringe decriminalization is good policy. Since law enforcement opinion carries a lot of weight in the legislature, this study suggests that it’s good politics as well.”
The study emerges after the passage of a new law in North Carolina that partially decriminalized syringes. The law, which went into effect in December 2013, states that a person cannot be charged with the possession of a syringe or other sharp object if he or she declares the object to law enforcement prior to a search.
“I would rather every addict come out and admit to having a needle than for one person not to tell the truth and have one of our officers get stuck,” says Sgt David Rose of the Winston Salem Police Department.