By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Last month, Vickie Bradley, EBCI Secretary of Public Health and Human Services, told Tribal Council that over 600 people in the Cherokee community have been diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Council took action to help curb the spread of disease from dirty needles and passed a clean needle exchange program during its regular session on Thursday, Aug. 3.
The program itself will be administered by the EBCI Public Health and Human Services division.
“It is the only evidence-based program to be effective in reducing the incidence and prevalence of disease,” Secretary Bradley told Council on Thursday. “The World Health Organization has monitored syringe exchange programs, or what we call harm reduction programs, worldwide, and they’ve been successful in almost eradicating HCV or Hepatitis in Scandinavian countries. And, so, it is the only proven method to be effective in reducing the incidence of disease.”
She said harm reduction is not just about the exchange program itself, but the education component is very important. “It’s about teaching people how to be safe and saving lives. Law enforcement really endorses this program because the incidents of needle sticks in our public safety workers is decreased an average of 67 percent with an exchange program.”
Secretary Bradley related that the State of North Carolina spent $50 million on Hep C treatment and $190 million on HIV treatment last year alone.
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy introduced Res. No. 611 (2017), which was passed during the June session of Tribal Council, that called for an ordinance to be drawn up (Ord. No. 621 – 2017) that would codify the clean needle exchange program. Ord. No. 621 received unanimous support on Thursday.
“Right now, we are in trouble with the drugs, and it’s not just us,” said Rep. McCoy. “It’s everybody. It’s everywhere.”
She noted that the needle exchange program is needed badly due to the prevalence of dirty, discarded needles found throughout the Cherokee community – on the sides of roads and even in business areas. “I would not bring my family to this town. And, I’m sorry. I know that’s going to aggravate people, and I don’t mean to harm business, but business has a responsibility. The Tribe shouldn’t be responsible for keeping the business area clean.”
Rep. McCoy said having discarded needles lying around town sends the wrong message. “The type of people that see our neighborhood in a situation it’s in might not be the people with the best character who feel comfortable in places like that, and then they find a market. And, it’s our people. Then, what they leave behind is death and disease and things that we don’t want our people to be exposed to.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith said he was mowing at a graveyard recently and found discarded syringes. “It’s still littered with needles everywhere. It’s saddening. It really is. You see them (needles) everywhere, and I’m hoping that this helps that out and helps cut back on the Hepatitis problem that we have.”
He added, “I think this will be money well spent and something good for our community. It does sound bad. It sounds like we’re condoning the drugs, but we’re really not. We’re trying to help a lot of other problems that go along with drug use.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke commented, “Everyone in here is going to be affected by someone or somebody that you know that’s an addict. So, we need to accept that and help them all that we can and move on.”
The clean needle legislation offers more than just an exchange program. Ord. No. 621 states that the following will be offered under the program:
- Disposal of used needles and hypodermic syringes
- Needles, hypodermic syringes, other injection supplies, and birth control for men and women at no cost and in quantities sufficient to ensure that needles, hypodermic syringes, and other injection supplies are not shared or reused.
- Reasonable and adequate security of program sites, equipment, and personnel. Written plans for security shall be provided to the Cherokee Police Department and shall be updated annually.
- Educational materials on all of the following:
- Overdose prevention
- Unplanned pregnancy prevention
- The prevention of HIV, AIDS, and viral Hepatitis transmission
- Drug abuse prevention
- Treatment for mental illness, including treatment referrals
- Treatment for substance abuse, including referrals for medication assisted treatment
- Prenatal care during pregnancy, and postnatal care for children born with addiction to substances or effected by substances including referrals for pre- and postnatal care
- Access to naloxone kits
- Personal consultations from a program employee or volunteer concerning maternal and prenatal health, mental health, or addiction treatment as appropriate.
If you need more information on proper disposal of needles, visit www.fda.org/safesharpdisposal.