Lawsuit Aims to Bar Connecticut Police From ‘Harassing’ Participants in Needle-Exchange Program
A federal judge in Connecticut on Friday will hear a request to prohibit Bridgeport police officers from "harassing" and arresting drug addicts who possess up to 30 sets of injection equipment, the Connecticut Post reports. Late last month U.S. District Judge Janet Hall issued a temporary order barring such actions by police pending Friday's hearing. The request is part of a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of two drug addicts participating in Bridgeport's Syringe Exchange Program who claim that police arrested and harassed them earlier this fall. To participate in the Bridgeport program, drug users must receive an identification card, and once they are registered in the program they can bring contaminated needles in order to receive sterile ones. The suit alleges that Bridgeport police "regularly stop Exchange Program participants after they leave the program van," and then "confiscate or destroy" the injection equipment received by the program's participants and tear up the participant's identification card. The lawsuit states, "If users are afraid to exchange injection equipment then they will share and discard contaminated equipment, [putting] not only themselves but also their sexual partners, their children and community members who might encounter improperly discarded equipment at risk for infection from bloodborne diseases and death from AIDS." Graham Boyd, one of the ACLU lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said that the case represents "a dispute about the proper scope" of a law enacted by the state Legislature in 1990 that decriminalizes possession of up to 30 sets of needles used for injecting drugs. Boyd said that protection against arrest "should extend beyond card-carrying participants of the needle exchange program." He added, "It's 100% about preventing the spread of these diseases." Police Chief Wilbur Chapman, named as one of the defendants in the suit, declined to comment on the case as it is still pending. The lawsuit states that Bridgeport's needle-exchange program costs about $160,000 a year to operate, while the cost of treating one AIDS patient for a year is $120,000. The suit also states that new HIV cases have fallen by one-third since the implementation of the needle-exchange program (Mayko, Connecticut Post, 12/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.