According to one study, In states where syringes are criminalized, 1 in 3 officers will experience a needle stick, putting them at risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C. Join three former law enforcement members (Sam Knisley, former detective, North Carolina Special Police Unit; Jen Earls, former officer, Chicago Police; and Ron Martin, former sergeant, New York City Police) in their discussion with Robert Childs, Executive Director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, about safety around handling drug paraphernalia. In this segment, the former law enforcement members answer the following questions: “What are the dangers of handling drug paraphernalia?”; “What are the dangers of handling syringes?”; and “What are the dangers of handling crack pipes?”.
A lot of misinformation and stigma surrounds the use of methadone as treatment for opiate addiction, but the problems are even more apparent when the patient in the treatment program is pregnant. Methadone, the most common treatment for opiate addiction in the United States, is a synthetic opioid that can ease withdrawal symptoms for dependent persons without creating a “high.” Typically, patients at methadone clinics will visit at least once a day to receive a prescribed dose of methadone, often in liquid form. Over time, patients may be allowed to take doses home and many are eventually weaned off the treatment. The goal of methadone treatment for pregnant women is to help them avoid the negative consequences of illicit drug use, including overdose and withdrawal, both of which can jeopardize the pregnancy. Without having to worry about illicit drug use, a woman is in a better position to engage in prenatal care.
Katie Clark, a research assistant at the Yale School of Public Health, began to notice the stigma surrounding pregnant women through her work at an opiate treatment center. “While I was working as a counselor I started to tailor my caseload to work with predominantly pregnant and parenting women. They shared with me that they were looked down upon, by other people in their lives and people in treatment, because they were in methadone treatment during pregnancy. Even though medically, they were doing the best thing for themselves and their pregnancies, this was not the message they were getting from those around them.”
As Katie explains, even within hospitals and drug treatment programs, pregnant women are often judged for methadone use. “People see an infant in withdrawal and start making comments like ‘how could you do this to your baby.’ In one case, a social worker tried to charge a mother with child abuse because she was in treatment during her pregnancy.”
Just as women are cautioned against alcohol use while pregnant, many people assume that women should immediately stop using opiates as well, but actually, quitting opiates can be very dangerous. “Opiate withdrawal can jeopardize the health of the baby and the mother and even cause miscarriages,” says Katie. “Methadone has been used as treatment for pregnant women for 30 years to keep mothers and babies stable during pregnancy.”
In her work, Katie also challenges that myth that babies are “born addicted” to opiates. “There is no such thing as a baby born addicted to opiates, but babies with opiate-dependent mothers can show withdrawal symptoms once they are born, such as diarrhea, stiffness, or not eating or sleeping well,” says Katie. “A baby experiencing withdrawal is usually kept at the hospital and, if clinically indicated, put on medicine to make them comfortable. Doctors will keep the babies in the hospital until they are weaned off the medicine.”
Katie created a website, www.methadoneandpregnancy.com to answer questions about methadone, pregnancy and opiate addiction. “Ideally I’d want more people to be trained on how to work with pregnant women in methadone treatment. There is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding about this population and that can lead to poor health outcomes. If we can educate people more, it will lead to better health outcomes for mothers and infants.”
Voices from the Harbor is an audio documentary Katie created about women’s experiences with pregnancy, opiate addiction and methadone treatment. In the documentary, four women speak of their experiences with addiction, pregnancy, stigma and recovery. Visit http://vimeo.com/41050651 to hear their powerful stories.
Four women discuss their experiences in active addiction, interactions with social service providers, what happens when they enter treatment, and their hopes for the future. Produced by Katie Clark, who is a Research Assistant at the Yale School of Public Health and a student of the Master of Science in Public Health, Maternal and Child Health program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“This documentary is dedicated to Paul MacFarland, who passed away in October 2011. I met Paul when he was the State Opioid Treatment Authority for the State of Maine. Paul was an outstanding mentor and a significant advocate of my efforts to improve the experiences of pregnant women in methadone treatment and provide education on this topic. I will always be grateful to Paul for his wisdom, insight, and his unwavering support.” –Katie Clark
Syringe Decriminalization: Diabetics Need Syringes Too
As a diabetic, not having a clean syringe available for insulin injections is scary. I remember one time when I was visiting my parents and had forgotten to bring a clean syringe. My blood sugar was rising rapidly and I feared I would not be able to get insulin in my body fast enough to stop it from reaching a potentially deadly level. My partner and I frantically searched my car in hopes that somewhere I had stored a used syringe to be properly disposed of later. I was so frustrated that I had the insulin in my hand but without a means to inject the life-saving medication. When we eventually found one, the idea of a used syringe reentering my body felt strange, even if I knew I was the only person who had ever used it. I wondered how difficult it would be to force myself to use a syringe with an unknown history.
I remember the force I had to use in order to break skin very vividly. I was almost shocked by how painful it was to use this needle that had previously penetrated my skin so effortlessly and painlessly. What was even stranger to me was how painful it was to actually push the insulin through the dull needle. It started as an intense burn just below my skin where I had injected the insulin, but quickly radiated to the surrounding area. The intense burning did not go away quickly. In fact, it still hurt to the touch several days later.
Thankfully, there have been very few times in my life when I did not have access to a clean syringe or have had to re-use my own needle. However, even for those few hours, being in dire need of insulin was terrifying. For many of North Carolina’s over 700,000 diabetics, up to a third of whom do not have health insurance and may not have a prescription for syringes, this predicament is a daily reality. In North Carolina, syringes are considered illegal drug paraphernalia if they are used or intended to be used to inject illegal drugs. Even though this means that it is not illegal to carry a syringe to use to inject insulin, it is often easier for police officers to assume that a person carrying a syringe is breaking the law. Because of this, if a diabetic is stopped by police, he or she is unlikely to admit to carrying a syringe, which puts the officer as risk for an accidental needle-stick during a search. In fact, one study found that one in three cops gets stuck by a syringe during their career. In areas where syringes have been decriminalized, the number of accidental law enforcement sticks has dropped by 66%. It is difficult to argue with that kind of added safety to those who protect us every day.
Decriminalizing syringes, simply making it legal to carry a syringe, without worrying that a police officer will assume that the person with the syringe is breaking the law, would expand syringe access for diabetics and prevent many from having to re-use needles or worse, having to share them and put themselves and others at risk for HIV and hepatitis C.
It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that providing and obtaining syringes is so difficult in North Carolina. In the moment that I did not have a clean syringe, the desperation that I felt sparked a realization of my privilege. I am extremely lucky to have had access to clean syringes since my diagnosis of diabetes. If I had been stopped by an officer, I could of possibly be thrown in jail for simply trying to stay alive. The stigma surrounding the decriminalization of syringes allows us to overlook the individuals it affects. There are so many of us that rely on syringes to survive, and yet the majority of people don’t realize the importance of access to clean syringes. Having little access to clean syringes puts too many people at risk.
S. Isaac Brock
 Lorentz, J., Hill, J. & Samini, B. “Occupational needle stick injuries in a metropolitan police force,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 18, 2000, p. 146–150. See also Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), “Fact Sheet: Public Safety, Law Enforcement, and Syringe Exchange,” May 2011,
 Groseclose, S.L. et al., “Impact of increased legal access to needles and syringes on practices of injecting-drug users and police officers—Connecticut, 1992-1993,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology, vol. 10. no. 1, 1995, p. 82–89.
Podcast 67 – April 17, 2012
Narelle Ellendon, Harm Reduction Coalition
Corey Davis, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
Molly Bannerman, Counterfit
Leo Beletsky, Northeastern University School of Law
Establishing a relationship with law enforcement is an essential component of creating a solid harm reduction program. This podcast features conversations on building those relationships. Interviews with Harm Reduction Coalition’s Narelle Ellendon, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition’s Corey Davis, Molly Bannerman from Counterfit in Toronto, and Leo Beletsky of Northeastern University School of Law. Resources: Harm Reduction Coalition, plus LEAHRN, and info on the North Carolina Law Enforcement Safety and Drug Policy Summit.
Check out this great podcast, it features NCHRC’s Board president Corey Davis. If you are interested in this topic consider joining us at the Law Enforcement and Drug Policy Summit in Raleigh, NC on June 12th, 2012. http://tinyurl.com/NCdrugpolicy