Harm Reduction and the Law

The Problem: 

Inadequate access to clean needles and syringes contributes to unsafe injection drug use, which is associated with a host of individual and public health harms including, most prominently, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and bacterial infections. A number of strategies for making needles more accessible have been identified. These strategies have been proven to benefit the health of injection drug users and the broader community. Yet, law continues to prevent or impede the implementation of these strategies in ways that maximize their benefit to population health. For example, Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs) are a proven intervention that increases access to needles thereby reducing the transmission of HIV and other harms. However, even in some places where SEPs are legal, restrictive laws and policies regulating the placement and operation of SEPs often limit their effectiveness. Similar legal impediments exist; with respect to the sale of syringes in pharmacies. Criminal laws prohibiting the possession of syringes also encourage risky injection behavior.

Our Work: 

CHLPP Co-Director Scott Burris has worked on projects related to needle access for over a decade. This work includes a comprehensive survey of state paraphernalia laws and numerous scholarly articles. He has testified before legislative bodies and spoken on nationally syndicated radio shows. This past summer, as Congress was debating the lifting of a federal prohibition on the funding of needled exchanges, Burris and Legal Fellow Evan Anderson were funded by the American Foundation for AIDS Research to assess the local regulation of SEPs in 20 major cities. The resulting memo was circulated among congressional members and formed the basis of a article on racial disparities in HIV/AIDS.