Drug use — particularly the use of opioids — is becoming a public health crisis in Arizona and across the nation. Steps need to be taken to address the issue and try to reverse the damage it has done to our society. As reported in an earlier post on this blog, the Arizona House of Representatives considered a bill that would legalize needle exchange programs. It passed the bill in February, and that bill recently advanced to the Arizona Senate. However, the bill did undergo major changes from the House version of the bill.

Under the Senate version of the bill, the state Department of Health Services would have to declare a public health emergency due to infection spread by needles. Once the declaration is made, needle exchange programs would be permitted to operate in the specific jurisdictions named in the declaration, and workers and volunteers at such programs would not face drug charges.

This is significant, as needles are considered illegal drug paraphernalia and possessing and distributing them is against the law. If this bill is passed into law, needle exchange programs would be legally permitted to operate in public, as long as they are authorized to do so by the state Department of Health Services.

The nation is in the grasp of an opioid crisis, one which is only furthered by the use of shared needles. According to some, current laws that address the situation simply are not stopping it. It is hoped that needle exchange programs will help prevent disease, thus addressing the crisis in a more appropriate manner. While it remains to be seen whether this bill will eventually become law, it serves as a reminder that steps need to be taken that address our nation’s drug problem in a positive and proactive manner.

Source: Cronkite News Arizona PBS, “Arizona bill would legalize needle-exchange programs, bring volunteers out of legal gray area,” Joan Magtibay, March 26, 2018