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National News

New York City Judge Backs Drug Users in Needle-Exchange Plans

November 22, 2002

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that the police department may not arrest drug addicts who are carrying syringes containing drug residue if the addicts are participating in a needle exchange program. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit that accused police of wrongly arresting program participants, while confiscating and destroying the cards they were carrying to identify them as members of a needle exchange program. In defending the suit, the city said that police had legitimate reasons for making the arrests, and it denied wrongdoing by the officers.

Advocates who say the programs have become a crucial means of reducing HIV among addicts hailed the ruling. The city was considering what action it might take in light of the ruling.

New York, like other states, had carved out an exception to its drug paraphernalia laws to allow addicts registered with the programs to carry syringes without being arrested. "It would be bizarre," District Judge Robert W. Sweet wrote, "to conclude that the legislative intent was to permit the creation of needle exchange programs in order to remove dirty needles, while at the same time frustrating that goal by making the essential steps of participation criminal."

One of the plaintiff's lawyers, Corinne A. Carey of the Urban Justice Center, said the ruling "is telling the police department that even though people are drug users, they still have a right to protect their own health and the health of their community." Daliah Heller, executive director of CitiWide Harm Reduction, which runs a needle exchange program in South Bronx, said the ruling would help prevent the spread of HIV "because people won't have fear, we hope, once we get the word out on the street, of carrying used syringes with them."

Back to other CDC news for November 22, 2002

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Adapted from:
New York Times
11.21.02; Benjamin Weiser

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: New York