Harm Reduction Hits the Capitol

Bill seeks to bring needle exchange programs out of the shadows

A bill that would legalize the creation of municipal needle exchange programs is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow (Thursday, April 12,) in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. SB 308, authored by Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, and co-sponsored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, authorizes a local health department, or an organization contracting with the local health authority, to establish a program designed to reduce the spread of communicable disease that includes an anonymous needle exchange program; educates program participants on the transmission and prevention of communicable disease – including HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; and helps program participants obtain other health care services – including drug treatment and “blood-borne disease testing.”

Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to, anonymously, exchange used needles for clean sterile needles as a means to combat the spread of communicable disease. Because needles are associated with the use of illegal drugs and are considered drug paraphernalia, harm reduction programs, such as a needle exchange, are often forced to operate under-the-radar, in order to avoid running afoul of criminal law and law enforcement – or to operate in a quasi-alliance with police, under something approximating a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Under Deuell’s bill, such programs would finally be allowed to emerge into the light – indeed, in part, the bill would amend the Heath and Safety Code to exempt those associated with the program from being prosecuted for possession or distribution of drug paraphernalia.

The bill would also allow a city to charge for the distributed needles, so long as the price stays within 150% of their actual cost, and would require operators to annually report to the Dept. of State Health Services on the effectiveness of the program and its impact on reducing the spread of communicable disease.

The meeting is scheduled for April 12 at 10am (or upon adjournment), in committee hearing room E 1.016.

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Drugs, Legislature, harm reduction, Robert Deuell, Leticia Van de Putte, SB 308

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