Canton church proposes needle exchange program

- It's not a new concept, but it's certainly not an idea anyone would expect from a church. A metro Atlanta pastor has proposed drug users turn in used needles for clean ones at his church.

Pastor Gary Lamb, of Action Church in Canton, said a congregation member came to him with the idea, but not everyone is as supportive of the proposal. The community is giving mixed reactions to the church’s idea.

Rev. Lamb said it is one of many ideas on the table to help his community. He said he has gotten a lot of positive feedback, as well as negative backlash.

Lamb said he showed up at his church on Thursday morning with the health department at his front door, expecting to find bags of used nettles, and the controversial topic has even gotten the attention of area law enforcement.

“It's an idea that will probably get implemented. I mean, you know, I think we'll try it, and we'll see if it works. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, then we won’t do it, we'll try something else,” said Lamb.

Lamb admits it is unorthodox and highly controversial, especially for a church, but he believes it might be the best way to reach those in need. Recently, he asked his congregation for ways to help his community. Congregation member James Hatfield, who is a recovering addict, came up with letting addicts come to their church to exchange used needles for clean ones.

“It helps bring the spread of diseases down. It also just helps with just having clean needles. I know it's something that's hard to understand,” said Hatfield.

“First instinct was kind of, ‘Oh, whoa, is that endorsing? Is that enabling? That makes me very uncomfortable.’ And then at the end of the day, I got to thinking about it, looking at the stats, reading, and researching, and the fact of the matter is, you know, addicts are going to use. But what we do have control over is offering a program that maybe keeps them as healthy as possible,” said Lamb.

The pastor put his message on his personal Facebook page and said he’s been inundated with close to a thousand comments as of Thursday. He’s gotten messages, threats, and even had the health department and the police called on him.

Pastor Lamb started the church five years ago and has watched it grow. The church has the largest food pantry in the city, a clothing pantry, serves as the only emergency shelter, and just this Thanksgiving delivered 2,500 meals.

“Even if it doesn’t work, what have lost, you know what I mean? I mean, we’re not populating the number of addicts, they still using, you know what I mean? If anything we’re just trying to keep them safe in the midst of their misery, in the midst of their mess,” said Lamb.

The reality is that Lamb’s plan can’t legally happen. Late Thursday afternoon, the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad commander posted on the task force’s Facebook page stating that it is illegal to distribute needles unless it is done so by a pharmacist.

Authorities said they have pledged to help Pastor Lamb find other ways to help those with an addiction in their community.

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