Federal Judge Prohibits Arrest of Drug Users With Up to 30 Needles
A federal judge on Thursday prohibited Bridgeport, Conn., police from "stopping, searching, arresting or threatening" any person possessing up to 30 clean or dirty needles, the Connecticut Post reports. In a 72-page decision, U.S. District Judge Janet Hall "interpreted and defined" a state law that she ruled "protects all 'present and future' injecting drug users from arrest" for needle possession. Hall's ruling also "decriminalized" the possession of "trace amounts of drugs" contained in dirty needles possessed by intravenous drug users. In 1992, the Connecticut Legislature passed the law, which permits pharmacies to sell up to 30 needles to people without a prescription "to reduce the spread of bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis by encouraging people to exchange dirty needles for clean ones." Last fall, the ACLU and Connecticut Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Bridgeport police department on behalf of two heroin addicts who participate in a needle exchange program and the Connecticut Harm Reduction Coalition, charging the police with violating state law by "harassing and threatening needle exchange program participants." Graham Boyd, an attorney for the ACLU, said that the law has reduced HIV transmission rates by a third in Connecticut. He called the decision a "very, very important victory," adding that Hall "defined the law for all police departments across the state." Barbara Brazzel-Massaro, an associate city attorney, said the city was "disappointed" with the ruling, which extends legal protection to all drug users and not only "card-carrying members" of the city's exchange program, as the city argued. The city will challenge the decision either in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, or by asking the Legislature to "revise" the law (Mayko, Connecticut Post, 1/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.