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Let’s Save Lives — Harm Reduction in North Carolina

A perspective from Pilar Sharp


Harm reduction is a proven way to reduce the amount of overdose deaths we see in the news daily. Early March of this year a student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill experienced a fatal overdose from substances laced with fentanyl. Elizabeth “Gracie” Burton, a UNC freshman, fell victim to using substances without knowing what they contained. More and more people are using substances which can lead to very preventable overdoses. If there was access to Naloxone/Narcan or fentanyl testing strips, Gracie could still be here today.

The key to mitigating these overdoses is providing more accessible harm reduction services to everyone. In the state of North Carolina, the GS 90-113.27 House Bill was passed in 2016, however there are still many North Carolinians that do not utilize these protection this policy offers. This policy helped to legally establish the syringe service programs in the state, so the people that use it have reduced risk.

The US Department of Health and Human Services states that providing testing, sterile injection resources and education helps to mitigate the outbreaks of infectious diseases. Syringe Service Programs specifically are associated with a 50% decline in HIV transmission risks. In 2017, North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan was released and continues to update the plan every two years to address the opioid crisis in the state. A few important aspects of the Plan is preventing addiction and reducing trauma, reducing harm, and connecting people to care.

Harm reduction services save lives, however there is a significant amount of stigma around receiving and funding these services. Normalizing harm reduction services help reduce stigma and allow more people to receive lifesaving care. Some of the stigma seen around these services and more specifically the people that use them include: patronizing people who use drugs, criminalizing people who use drugs, and even creating fear so people won’t seek out services.

Harm reduction services use a variety of strategies to promote safer techniques and provide dignity to people who use drugs. One of the most common types of harm reduction services we see most often are Syringe Service Programs (SSPs). Syringe Service Programs in the state of North Carolina offer syringe disposal, distribution of sterile syringes, naloxone or Narcan and consultations and referrals to mental health treatment. Syringe service programs also offer education to people that use the services. This access to education is focused on preventing infectious diseases, overdoses, and addiction. Syringe Service programs are cost effective ways to prevent the spread of disease in addition to preventing overdoses. Increase use in opioids without having harm reduction services can lead to increases transmission of infectious disease. The opioid crisis is very intertwined with the rise of the risk of HIV infection and other infectious diseases. These services also offer treatment options as well for those who would like it.

Harm Reduction services provide care to a very stigmatized group of people who use drugs and other substances. In the state of North Carolina, there are many ways people can access these services. The North Carolina Department of health and human services provides a list of the harm reduction service programs provided all through the state, which can be accessed here.


“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.