A Refresher on North Carolina’s Needle Exchange Law and Other Harm Reduction Immunities

In response to the opioid crisis, North Carolina passed several protections designed to alleviate some of the legal liability surrounding drug use in the interest of harm reduction and public health. One of those protections authorized needle exchange programs (alternatively known as safe syringes programs). G.S. 90-113.27. A recent study examined how the needle exchange program is working in seven North Carolina counties and found that the law was not consistently applied. Brandon Morrison et al., “They Don’t Go by the Law Around Here”: Law Enforcement Interactions After the Legalization of Syringe Services Programs in North Carolina, vol. 19, Harm Reduction Journal, 106 (Sept. 27, 2022). Considering the study’s findings, I thought a refresher on the immunity provisions for syringe exchanges and similar protections would be timely. Read on for the details.

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Drug Testing Equipment Isn’t Drug Paraphernalia Anymore

Effective immediately, there is a new exception to G.S. 90-113.22 (possession of drug paraphernalia) and G.S. 90-113.22A (possession of marijuana paraphernalia). Pursuant to S.L. 2019-159, it is “not unlawful” for a drug user to possess or use “testing equipment for identifying or analyzing the strength, effectiveness, or purity” of drugs, or for an “organization that promotes scientifically proven ways of mitigating health risks associated with drug use” to possess or distribute such equipment. Read on to find out what’s behind the change.

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