DOBSON — Monday evening Surry County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Larry Phillips relayed his concerns regarding a federal program that may soon be implemented in Surry County. The program, which requires no local funding, would provide sterile syringes to drug users.
The thought process behind the program is that by providing sterile needles to drug users lower rates of blood-born illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV could result.
Since the program requires no local funding, Phillips said the county health board could choose to implement it without the blessing of county commissioners. “With us not controlling the purse for this (program), they could go ahead with it.” Board of Commissioners Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding, who meets with the health board once a month said that he would “take the sentiment back (to the health board).”
Phillips was careful to point out that his concerns weren’t with the county’s health department or Director Samantha Ange. Phillips said his issue was that the federal program “is not tied to any sort of program for recovery (from substance abuse).”
While a syringe exchange program would be new to Surry County, a number of programs have existed throughout the United States over the period of the past couple of decades. In 2013 there were 186 cities in the United States that had syringe exchange programs, according to the Foundation for AIDS research.
That foundation argues that the costs of treating HIV and other blood-born diseases is far greater than the cost of the syringe program, stating that treatment for a person with HIV can cost the taxpayer more than $500,000 over the course of an infected individual’s life.
According to a Centers for Disease Control report, in 2008 $21.3 million went toward funding syringe exchange programs, and the federal program has been in place since the mid-1990s.
In a letter to the Surry County Board of Commissioners, Ange elaborated on the possible program. Ange told commissioners that needle exchange programs are currently illegal in North Carolina.
However, the state health department intends to present a proposal to implement the programs to Gov. Pat McCrory. Ange stated that Surry County has been asked to serve as a “pilot program.”
In her correspondence with commissioners Ange pointed to more than 40 studies that taut the exchange programs. Additionally, though the program would not be “tied to” any recovery program as Phillips suggested, Ange stated that “education would be given, along with information regarding addiction and counseling services” to those who utilize the program.
Ange also stated the subcommittee within the board of health “is in strong favor of piloting this program.”
Having counseled drug users as a pastor throughout his adult life, Phillips said he knows well the trials and tribulations of drug users. While Phillips said that he “feels for those people,” he also said that doesn’t negate the fact that drug use is illegal.
Phillips called the federal syringe exchange program “a totally misguided federal program that doesn’t address the root of the problem.” He went on to say that without tying the program to some sort of drug abuse recovery treatment “all the program does is say, here’s another needle.”
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]