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Attitudes of North Carolina law enforcement officers toward syringe decriminalization

Posted 10/3/2019 (updated 3/25/2024)

Background: North Carolina, like much of the U.S. South, is disproportionately affected by HIV and hepatitis. This persistently high disease burden may be driven in part by laws that criminalize the possession and distribution of syringes for illicit drug use. Legal change to decriminalize syringes may reduce infection rates in the state, but is unlikely absent support from law enforcement actors. Methods: We analyzed the responses of 350 North Carolina law enforcement officers to a confidential, anonymous survey. The survey instrument collected data regarding self-reported needle-stick injury (NSI), blood borne disease risk perception and attitudes toward syringe decriminalization. Results: 82% of respondents reported that contracting HIV was a “big concern” for them. 3.8% of respondents reported ever receiving a job-related NSI, a rate of 36 NSI per 10,000 officer-years. Majorities of respondents reported positive views regarding syringe decriminalization, with approximately 63% agreeing that it would be “good for the community” and 60% agreeing that it would be “good for law enforcement.” Black and female officers were significantly less likely to agree that on-the-job NSI was a “big concern” and significantly more likely to agree that it would be good for law enforcement. Conclusions: These findings suggest that many North Carolina LEOs understand the public health benefits of syringe access programs and may be inclined to support syringe decriminalization legislation. Further research is indicated to determine the causes of observed differences in perceptions of bloodborne disease risk and attitudes toward syringe decriminalization by race and sex.