Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Will Virginia police support needle exchange programs?

Drug addiction is in the news a lot these days, particularly when it comes to heroin. While this drug is unlawful in Virginia and every other state in the nation, there are still those who will possess and use these illicit substances. While prosecutors may simply want to throw the book at drug offenders, others in Virginia may want to seek ways to help these people overcome their addictions.

Around six months ago, Virginia legalized needle exchange programs. These programs give drug users sterile equipment to use to inject the drugs. The aim was health-related; it was a way to combat the ever-increasing rates of the diseases hepatitis C and HIV. However, the Virginia Department of Health has not gotten any of the 55 districts eligible for the program to apply for it.

Part of the reason lies with law enforcement agencies. As part of the application process, a district needs a letter of support from a law enforcement agency. However, law enforcement agencies do not want to seem soft on crime, including drug offenses. Some police departments are not taking a stance on either side of the issue, but have simply stated that any proposal will need to be reviewed by the department.

That being said, research on needle exchange programs has shown that they do stem the spread of disease. Also, these types of programs do not put more needles into the population -- they just allow users to trade a dirty needle for a clean one. These programs also provide users with information on addiction treatment programs.

While some police departments may not be willing to do something that they think would contribute to someone committing a drug offense, needle exchange programs can ultimately help some people by giving them the information they need to become sober. For those in Virginia who are facing drug charges based on heroin use, seeking the advice of a criminal defense attorney is a good step to take.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Needle exchange programs have yet to get off the ground, lack statewide law enforcement support," Katie O'Connor, Dec. 10, 2017

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