On Friday, 23-year-old Dylan Smith was driving to a doctor’s appointment. He started taking Harvoni in May, a once-a-day pill that treats Hepatitis C, according to its website.
It’s a 90-day treatment that Smith hopes removes the disease from his body completely, effectively reversing the effects of his drug use.
In part to prevent what happened to Smith from happening to others, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill authorizing needle exchange programs in North Carolina.
It went into effect on July 1.
Smith, clean since 2014, said his drug addiction began with Percocet he was given during recovery from injuries sustained in a car wreck.
His drug addiction ended with heroin and a bad needle.
He turned his life around, he said, after realizing the devastating effect his drug abuse was having on his life and the lives of those he loved most.
It was after he quit that he started feeling sick and a hospital visit confirmed his kidneys were failing. His spleen, gallbladder and liver were enlarged. He later learned he was also suffering from Fibrosis.
While using, Smith said he shot up and felt relaxed, like everything was OK — but it wasn’t.
“A 20-dollar high for me turned into about $20,000 in medical debt,” Smith said.
He unknowingly used a recycled needle of a family friend’s to shoot up. His friend had Hepatitis C and didn’t tell Smith beforehand.
Smith shared his personal story in a Facebook post on April 27, a post that was shared 2,090 times, where he explained he’d been chasing a never-ending high.
Smith said his drug addiction changed him from “a great kid” into someone who was verbally abusive. He asked his mother for money daily and she called the Beulaville Police Department on a number of occasions, including when Smith got into a shoving match with his stepfather.
Smith has teeth missing that he said makes him feel self-conscious.
“I have so many regrets,” Smith said.
Local needle exchange
The North Carolina bill was passed with the objectives to reduce the spread of diseases, reduce injuries to law enforcement and encourage addicts to seek treatment, according to the bill.
The established programs, the bill states, will offer disposal of needles, supplies at no cost and in quantities large enough to ensure the given needles won’t be shared or reused, educational materials and access to naloxone kits, which provide emergency reversals in drug overdoses.
Due to the relative newness of the bill, a program is not currently available at the Onslow County Health Department, said Public Information Officer Pam Brown.
The program still needs to be researched and the needs specific to Onslow County identified before a program is provided at the health department, Brown said, and it will take some time to understand it all.
What works in other counties may not be the best fit for Onslow County and determining exactly what the needs are locally will be the key to providing the best service here, Brown agreed.
“We just want to make sure we’re doing what will be the most beneficial for Onslow County,” she said.
At his June doctor’s appointment Smith said the Hepatitis C in his blood was almost undetectable.
This month, he hopes to hear that it’s completely gone.
Smith said he’s happy to hear about the needle exchange program and believes it will help prevent the spread of diseases, but he’s wary of the belief that it will help stop addicts.
“I understand what they’re doing,” Smith said, “but until an addict is truly ready to stop, something needs to happen for them to want to fix themselves.”
Providing clean needles won’t necessarily stop someone from using and give them the drive to stop, he said.
However, the needle exchange program has the possibility of preventing someone from contracting a disease like Hepatitis C, and Smith said he supports it for that reason.
“I don’t think they are going to fully stop ... until something happens like in my situation,” he said.