amNewYork: Drug users say legal syringes sometimes confiscated

am New York

Drug users say legal syringes sometimes confiscated

By SHEILA ANNE FEENEY | January 8, 2014

While police confiscations of syringes have gone down since a state law in 2010 permitted people to carry those that are legally obtained, it still goes on in the city, according to harm reduction educators and some drug users.

“There are still abuses. They take away their meds or rip up their cards. They take away their syringes, and for what — so they can share a syringe and Hep C?” said Joyce Rivera, executive director of St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

In a department-wide October 2012 “operations order,” then-NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told all officers that “persons found in possession of hypodermic instruments may not be arrested solely for the possession of that device, not withstanding their age or whether they are participants in Syringe Exchange Programs.”

While drug users are hesitant to speak publicly about run-ins with police, amNewYork spoke with three — before the current administration took office on Jan. 1 — who reported retaliatory actions after cops found them carrying syringes.

Oscar Gonzalez, 48, of Harlem, still resents being stopped one evening last August by a policeman who he said slammed him against the wall “because he said I looked suspicious.” Anticipating that he was about to be frisked, he told the officer he had syringes in his book bag. Still, when the cop saw he had 20, the officer demanded to know, “Why you got so many?” Gonzalez recounted.

“Once I use them, I break them and throw them away: I’m a clean addict!” Gonzalez said he told the officer. Gonzalez, who said he is especially scrupulous in his injection practices because a brother died of AIDS in 2005, said the officer “took them from me and threw them in the garbage.”

The officer wasn’t interested in seeing his SEP (Syringe Exchange Program) ID card or hearing about how syringe exchange prevents the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, claimed Gonzalez, who said he was then allowed to go.

SEPs are a proven and essential tool in stemming the spread of blood-borne diseases: A 2012 report by the NY State Department of Health showed that while Hep C diagnoses remain high in New York, new HIV diagnoses decreased 37% between 2002 and 2010. Syringe Exchange Programs, which allow drug users easy access to clean needles and remove used ones from circulation — as well as higher rates of condom use — are largely responsible for that decline.

Yet, drug users report that some cops continue to illegally confiscate their syringes or book them on other trumped-up charges — usually disorderly conduct, loitering or trespassing.

A January 2010 report issued by the Urban Justice Center, VOCAL-NY Users Union and the NYC AIDS Housing Network found that harassment of IV drug users occurred in a larger context of racial profiling, gentrification and the war on drugs, with police targeting injection drug users in a “misguided effort to collect information for anti-drug enforcement efforts.”

Read the full article online at amNewYork.

Blog, Civil Rights, Drug Policy, Media Coverage

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