Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Dave Wessner, Dr. Rick Gay
In this project, I aim to better understand the landscape of harm reduction in Mecklenburg County. This paper explores why harm reduction methods, such as needle exchange programs and medication-assisted treatment, are not implemented in Mecklenburg County to the greatest extent possible. The specific research question I am investigating is: what is the landscape of harm reduction in Mecklenburg County and what are the potential barriers to the implementation of harm reduction methods in Mecklenburg County? Because I hypothesized that public opinion and legal concerns play a part in the lack of their implementation, these are the areas of focus I assessed.
Through largely qualitative methods, I looked at public and expert opinions on harm reduction and examined the perceived barriers to the implementation of these resources for people who use drugs. The primary tools utilized were fairly unstructured interviews with experts or other actors in the harm reduction field, a survey of general public opinion, and a review of the relevant policies in place currently.
Interviews with professionals and actors in the field of harm reduction, including people who work in needle exchange services, law enforcement, and drug treatment facilities, provided insight into how these services are utilized here, what is lacking, and what is preventing the more widespread implementation of harm reduction services.
To better understand public opinion on these issues and to assess whether or not that may influence the implementation of harm reduction facilities, I conducted a survey of community members in Charlotte and the surrounding area. This survey also gauged the general knowledge of harm reduction that is present in the community.
Based on this work, I concluded that despite the demonstrated need for harm reduction services in Mecklenburg County, the support for harm reduction services is tenuous but growing, as evidenced through survey responses and expert opinions. With the legalization of syringe exchange services in North Carolina in 2016, there has been less pushback on these services, and one needle exchange program has been able to successfully open and operate two fixed sites in Mecklenburg County.
These services have undergone an expansion in recent years that will likely continue as public opinion becomes more and more in favor of harm reduction and knowledge of this work becomes more common. While barriers like fears based on misinformation and the stigmatization of people who use drugs remain, public opinion of harm reduction services is overall more favorable than anticipated. A key factor in this growth of support is a concurrent growth in education surrounding the issues of drug use and harm reduction.