Conversation begins on needle exchanges
<p class="p1">Using needles to inject illegal drugs brings with it a slew of health risks, including diseases like HIV and hepatitis, along with serious infections. Dirty needles only increase these risks.
<p class="p3">Louisiana ranks second in the number of AIDS cases nationwide, behind Washington, D.C., and third in HIV infections. Providing drug users with clean needles may lower the risk of spreading HIV or other diseases.
<p class="p3">That’s why one state lawmaker is pushing legislation where drug users could exchange used needles for clean ones and bypass the current step of obtaining permission from the local government.
<p class="p3">House Bill 661 would also allow needle exchange sites to offer more materials. One would include naloxone kits, which can save someone’s life in the event of an opioid overdose.
<p class="p3">Under the bill, people who volunteer or work at needle exchange sites, or the clients themselves, could not be arrested if they are caught with syringes, even if they have drug residue on them.
<p class="p3">Strips that would test for the powerful opiate known as fentanyl would also be made legal. The painkiller, much stronger than heroin, has been linked to overdoses nationwide.
<p class="p3">The legislation, sponsored by Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James, already passed in the House with a 71-21 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration.
<p class="p3">Needle exchange programs already exist in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but they are relatively new. More than 40 states already have them.
<p class="p3">Supporters of needle exchanges say they can establish trust between an addict and those who work at the exchange. That relationship can hopefully lead to getting an addict into a treatment program and breaking the addiction.
<p class="p3">It remains to be seen how the legislation will fare in the hands of the Senate. Some House lawmakers said they oppose the stipulation that users won’t face arrest if they are found with a needle that has drug residue. The bill has no opposition from lobbyists representing sheriffs and prosecutors, which could mean smooth sailing through the Legislature.
<p class="p3">Using needles to inject illegal drugs is still risky behavior, but the legislation may give users less of a chance of infecting themselves or anyone else with life-threatening diseases.
<p class="p3">This legislation could bring our state one step closer to getting the number of HIV/AIDS cases down.