September 19, 2019

What About the Syringe Exchange Hold-Outs?

Over the spring and summer, three more U.S. states have enacted state laws to publicly fund syringe exchange programs. Florida’s drastic underfunding of its State Health Department is now in the news spotlight. But on a positive note, Florida’s 2019 Infectious Disease Elimination programs Act (IDEA) went into effect on July 1. Commonly known as the Syringe Exchange Bill, it passed the Florida Senate unanimously (40 votes to 0), by 111 to 3 in the House, and was then signed into law by Republican Governor De Santis on June 27.

PBS News Hour reported that Florida’s “program will provide HIV screening, access to social services, the opioid-overdose antidote Narcan and other medical supplies. The program also steers willing addicts to rehabilitation and social services.”

The Kaiser Health Network noted that, “Once repellent to conservative politicians, needle exchanges are now being endorsed and legalized in Republican-controlled states.” Georgia legalized theirs last April 3 and Idaho on April 1. Both states have Republican governors, as well as Republican-controlled House and Senate chambers. While equivalent legislation has also been passed by State Representatives in Missouri, Iowa and Arizona, the Senators in all three states have not yet debated or voted on those bills.

In an op-ed column in AZ Central (an affiliate of USA Today), Arizona Representative Tony Rivero (Republican) confronted his Senate colleagues on their inaction, observing that “as needle exchanges are shut out of the solution, babies are dying of congenital syphilis and Arizonans are spending $450,000 per each new HIV diagnosis and more than $20,000 to treat one case of hepatitis C, which could have been prevented with a 7-cent syringe.”

USA Today reported last May that legal syringe exchanges were operating in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Asal Sayas, Public Policy Director at amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research), has pointed out the dissonance between the national Ending the Epidemic (EtE) initiative’s goals and the intractable opposition to syringe exchange maintained by the 42% of U.S. states. “The administration’s plan targets 48 counties with high HIV diagnoses and seven states with a high rural burden of HIV,” Sayas said. “In six of those seven rural states (with the highest HIV burden), needle exchanges are illegal. If we’re serious about wanting this plan to work, we need to consider that.”

View the latest Policy Update here.