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Syringe Exchange Bill Introduced

House Bill 92 has been assigned to the Health and Aging committee after an initial hearing and introduction. The bill, informally called the “Syringe Exchange” bill, would authorize local health departments to contract with outside non-profits to establish needle exchange programs – as long as they could also find a way to pay for the program. (Full text of bill here.)

Still, legislation that recognizes the value of needle exchange for IV drug users is a step forward. The bipartisan bill is meant to “promote harm reduction and a path to treatment.” Whether it actually does so, without any funding attached, is debatable.

Having the approval of state government would make syringe exchange programs legal, as long as local authorities authorized them, and that would mean IV drug users wouldn’t risk arrest when swapping contaminated syringes for sterilized replacements. This, in itself is important. Syringe exchange programs are often painted as encouraging drug addiction and for this reason, may be politically unpopular. However, well run programs have been proven to reduce transmission of blood borne pathogens and lower overall medical costs to states that have them.

According to the Daily Reporter, the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland implemented a syringe exchange program in 1995 and gives away more than a hundred thousand needles to addicts in the Cleveland area every year.

Harm reduction is a difficult concept for those outside the addiction treatment community to accept. Rather than promoting drug use, harm reduction helps keep addicts from some of the avoidable consequences of their habit, allowing them a chance to face the real problem – the addiction itself. For needle exchange, there’s even more of a benefit, because HIV, Hepatitis and other blood borne diseases do not stay in the addict population, but are passed on to those living with or interacting with the addict. It turns out, what’s good for addicts is also good for the health status of the overall population.

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