Federal Judge Directs New York City Police Department Not to Arrest Needle-Exchange Participants Carrying Used Syringes
A federal judge in New York City on Wednesday ruled that the New York Police Department may not arrest individuals in possession of syringes carrying drug residue if the individuals are participants in a needle-exchange program, the New York Times reports. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling said that the goal of such programs is to encourage injection drug users to exchange used syringes for clean ones, thereby preventing further use of syringes potentially contaminated with HIV or other diseases. He added that it would be "bizarre" to "frustrat[e] that goal" by making possession of a used syringe illegal for such individuals (Weiser, New York Times, 11/21). Attorney Corrine Carey of the Urban Justice Center last year filed the suit on behalf of a heroin user who was arrested in 1999 for carrying a needle obtained through a Manhattan needle exchange and subsequently charged with criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. Although the district attorney dismissed the charges because the law bears an exemption for members of needle-exchange programs, Carey's lawsuit argued that police often "ignore the law" and continue to arrest drug users who have obtained needles legally (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/2/01). Daliah Heller, executive director of CitiWide Harm Reduction, which runs a needle-exchange program in the South Bronx, said that the ruling could increase participation in needle-exchange programs and help prevent the spread of HIV by removing the threat of arrest for carrying used syringes. Carey added that the ruling reinforced the fact that "even though people are drug users, they still have a right to protect their own health and the health of their community" (New York Times, 11/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.