Cincinnati Needle Exchange Worker Arrested For Uncapped Syringe In Car

By McCarton Ackerman 08/19/16

The program manager for the Cincinnati Exchange Project is facing a misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge.

Cincinnati Needle Exchange Worker Arrested For Uncapped Syringe In Car
Body cam footage of Elizabeth Harrison's arrest Norwood Police Department

The program manager for a needle exchange program in Cincinnati has been arrested by police on drug paraphernalia charges after authorities found a needle in her car—but she insists she was on the job. posted dash-cam video from the arrest of Elizabeth “Libby” Harrison, program manager for the Cincinnati Exchange Project (CEP). Norwood police approached her car on Interstate 71 and found Harrison sleeping inside. After searching the vehicle, they found an uncapped syringe, burnt cotton and a bottle cap.

Harrison has pleaded not guilty to the charge, explaining that she works out of her vehicle and suffers from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The University of Cincinnati, which runs the needle exchange program, confirmed that Harrison is on administrative leave until the case has reached a ruling. Although it has been forced to temporarily halt services, CEP plans to obtain a rental vehicle and continue running the program.

The project offers one-for-one needle exchanges in four locations throughout the Cincinnati area. Intravenous drug users are given a clean needle in exchange for every used one they turn in, in addition to receiving other clean equipment. The program also helps users enter into treatment when they’re ready, and also provides testing for HIV and hepatitis C. Although it’s primarily funded by local health foundation Interact for Health and its nonprofit entity Interact for Change, it also receives funding from other foundations and individuals.

Although needle exchange programs are a controversial topic, 27 states and Washington D.C. have all reduced legal barriers to establishing them, as of April 2015. Last year, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence renewed an executive order that authorized a needle exchange program in Scott County, but said he would decline to endorse any statewide needle exchange bills.

But many harm reduction advocates and law professors have said such decisions are based on discomfort and not factual evidence. Temple University law professor Scott Burris argued that all states that have allowed some opening for needle exchange programs have seen success in reducing the spread of HIV.

“I’m sympathetic to them feeling that way. I’m not sympathetic to them failing to get over those feelings and saving lives,” said Burris told a local Indiana TV station last April. “The feeling is wrong. We have needle exchange all over the world. We’ve had it for 25 years. We have no evidence of any of these harmful effects.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.