Rick Basile served on an advisory committee for Ithaca, New York’s first syringe exchange program – while he was Chief of Police.
“I learned about harm reduction and syringe exchange programs during an interview,” explains Basile, a 30 year law enforcement veteran. “In Ithaca the interview process to become Chief of Police was unusual. Different people from the community came in and had about 45 minutes to ask me questions. One person, George Ferrari of AIDS Work, asked me how I felt about harm reduction and I didn’t know what it was. George explained to me about syringe exchange programs. Once I learned that they reduce needle-sticks to officers [by 66%], I was sold.”
Officers who receive accidental needle-sticks are at risk for transition of blood borne diseases, such as HIV and especially hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver and can lead to liver failure.
“I had a friend who was in the hospital for a year because of a needle-stick. He still has liver problems,” says Basile. “The other officer who was in the hospital with him with a needle-stick injury didn’t go home.”
According to Basile, the people at AIDS Work approached him to get his endorsement before starting up an exchange program. Even though syringe exchange programs are legal in New York, they wanted police to be on board.
“The people starting the exchange wanted my endorsement because they felt the program would go more smoothly with police support. I was asked to serve on the planning committee as well. We talked about sites to do the exchange, how often to provide the program, how to dispose of dirty needles, and what other services to provide in addition to syringe exchange.”
Apart from benefits such disease reduction and prevention of needle-sticks to officers, Rick Basile was impressed with the harm reduction component of syringe exchange, in which other services, such as HIV testing and treatment, referral to drug treatment programs, and social services are offered to people who participate in syringe exchange.
“As part of the exchange, people received education and started to learn about the consequences of drug use. Services were available for people who wanted to quit.”
Rick Basile supports syringe exchange programs because “they work. The programs get needles off the streets and lower the spread of disease. And of course the biggest selling point to me is the reduction in needle-sticks of officers. Hepatitis is really dangerous.”
Rick Basile currently serves as Program Chair of the Criminal Justice Program at Edgecombe County College.