VOCAL-NY Users Union members won a campaign to expand syringe access and stop unlawful police harassment in 2010. Nearly two decades after syringe exchange programs first became legal in New York, a new law was passed to end contradictions in state law regarding possession of new and used syringes. For years, police arrested people for “doing the right thing” and using sterile syringes and safely disposing of used ones. Although the Public Health Law and court precedents said possession of new and used syringes obtained through public health programs was legal, the Penal Code still defined both as crimes.
We are now fighting for full implementation of this new public health law. By working with drug users, law enforcement, health offices and frontline services, we are educating people about the new law and what it means on the street. And we are working with drug users and programs to document any cases of continued harassment and unlawful arrest of syringe exchange participants.
This campaign is part of VOCAL-NY’s broader effort to shift our approaches to drug use away from the criminal justice system towards a human rights and health-based approach.