Pubdate: Thu, 21 Nov 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Benjamin Weiser
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


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."
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