Needle swap program eyed for the city

By Tom Joyce - [email protected]

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will hear a presentation at its meeting tonight aimed at having a needle exchange program established in the city.

“What we’d like for them to do is approve having this be in Mount Airy,” said Karen Eberdt, who has led efforts to combat drug-related problems locally in recent years as coordinator of the group Project Lazarus-Surry.

Needle exchange programs are a type of public service in which injecting drug users can obtain hypodermic needles and related paraphernalia at little or no cost. The intent is to reduce risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis which are linked to use of dirty needles.

“It’s hugely successful,” Eberdt said Wednesday of the concept already in place in many areas of the country.

Communities in North Carolina are now embracing it as a result of the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act, which was approved unanimously by both chambers of the state General Assembly. Among its multi-layered provisions is one allowing local governments to support needle exchange programs.

Eberdt will give a presentation on that topic to the city commissioners during their meeting beginning today at 7 p.m. She will be joined by Colin Miller of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a statewide grassroots organization that advocates prevention of disease and drug overdoses through public health strategies and drug policy transformation.

Mount Airy would be a prime location for a needle exchange program, Eberdt said, as the most-populous municipality in Surry County where more than 50 percent of the county’s drug-related emergency calls are generated.

Meanwhile, hepatitis C also has loomed as a big problem for the local area as a whole, according to Eberdt. “Surry County relative to other counties is very high,” she said of incidences of that disease, the most common blood-borne virus in the United States with up to 4 million Americans now infected.

Though Mount Airy would be a strategic location for a needle exchange program, no specific site has been proposed in town for that effort.

“I have some ideas, but it’s going to be up to the city commissioners,” Eberdt said.

Another positive element regarding a needle exchange program is that it allows an opportunity to distribute information about drug use to participants, which she said is “not forced on them,” but given voluntarily.

Among other agenda items for tonight’s city commissioners meeting are:

• Their consideration of a contract for construction work to upgrade Market Street downtown, in the wake of contractor bids for the project being opened on June 28.

• A discussion regarding an extension of municipal water service to Carroll County, Virginia.

• A public hearing on a voluntary annexation request for property in the 100 block of North Franklin Road. It involves a now-vacant site of less than 1 acre which is owned by Candido Martinez Franco, who is seeking to develop a car wash on the property. The board is scheduled to vote on the annexation request later in the meeting.

• A discussion on tennis court funding.

• Consideration of an amended agreement between the city and Benchmark, an out-of-town firm that provides planning-related, zoning-administration and other services to the municipality.

By Tom Joyce

[email protected]

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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