Sometimes, government works. That’s emphatically the case with a needle exchange program signed into law last year by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, which allows drug users in North Carolina to exchange used syringes for sterile ones.
The issue was touchy, with some citizens resisting the idea that the state doesn’t provide money for needles even though it allows the program. There is also the view among some that needles are the drug-use vehicle of choice in back alleys. But politicians from both parties came to understand that drug use cuts across all social and economic lines, and that the state has a public health interest in stemming the spread of HIV and acute hepatitis C cases. Hepatitis C prevalence has dramatically increased, and the cost of treating Medicaid patients with that disease has topped $50 million a year.
The needle program also introduces addicts to treatment programs and some health screenings, and for some that can mean a decision to really get help, which can turn lives around.
As the opioid epidemic has spread, and as lawmakers have seen in their own communities constituents from all backgrounds battling the demons of drug addiction, they’ve come to realize that genuine help, not punitive action such as prosecution, is sometimes the best response.