The harm caused by intravenous drug use extends far beyond the user, sometimes even to innocent bystanders, like hikers, boaters or young children on playgrounds. But the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, along with volunteers in Haywood County, are becoming more active in efforts not so much aimed at winning the drug war, as containing it.
On a summer evening in Haywood County, a small group of volunteers are out walking the tracks, wearing blue rubber gloves and holding long grabbing wands. “We are cleaning up needles so we can prevent accidental needle sticks and disease transmission,” said Megan Hauser of local community health coalition Healthy Haywood. Hauser couldn’t really say if she’d like to find a lot of needles, or none at all. “I suppose that depends on how you look at it,” she said. “We may not find a lot here tonight but that doesn’t mean there’s not some still out there.”
Hauser’s part of a group dedicated to mitigating the harmful effects of the nation’s intravenous drug epidemic, as is Patti Tiberi, a substance abuse prevention coordinator at Mountain Projects and chair of Healthy Haywood’s substance abuse task force. “We had gotten some sites identified by the sheriff’s department where they frequently are called to pick up needles, so we looked at sites in Waynesville and some of us went to Canton and looked around,” Tiberi said.
After little more than an hour in the field, volunteers returned, discovering three syringes and a host of associated paraphernalia. “We had a little training first on how to safely do a needle pickup so that none of us would get stuck and get injured,” said Tiberi.
Training was conducted by the NC Harm Reduction Coalition’s Jeremy Sharp, who told the dozen or so volunteers to never handle IV drug paraphernalia with bare hands, and always dispose of found items in a sharps container or plastic laundry detergent bottle. The NC Harm Reduction Coalition also provides free Naloxone, post-overdose follow-up and mobile needle exchanges. “Syringe exchange is a controversial thing but something we can all get behind, having a cleaner and safer community,” said Hauser. “That’s part of what picking up the needles is all about.”
The NC Harm Reduction Coalition will conduct an overdose recognition and opioid reversal training at noon on Tuesday, August 7, in Clyde.