Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona was sent a bill in May to legalize sterile needle exchange in hopes of HIV prevention and lowering health care system costs
Governor Doug Ducey has been sent bills to legalize both fentanyl test strips and sterile needle exchanges which could both drastically help people with substance use disorders. The Arizona House of Representatives voted 57-2 in favor of the bill legalizing sterile needle exchange with only 2 members not voting.
Senator Nancy Barto who is the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, who was once opposed to such legislation, was a co-sponsor of this bill. On January 27th Barto’s committee heard that the health care system could save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” through decriminalizing needle exchanges due to the costs of caring for someone who is living with HIV.
Glen Spencer is the executive director of the Phoenix-based Aunt Rita’s foundation. This foundation is a non-profit dedicated to ending HIV and Aids in Arizona.
“This is about connecting with individuals where they are at and providing them information about safety, providing them information about disease prevention,” Spencer said. “The average cost of lifetime treatment of a person living with HIV is more than $850,000.”
The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was implemented more than three years ago with much fanfare, however, opioid-related deaths have not only persisted but studies showed that they climbed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The opioid epidemic act did not legalize a sterile needle exchange and was one of the biggest criticisms of the act. Barto emphasized that this bill will not make a state-funded syringe program but rather is the opportunity for cities and municipalities that want to start these programs to be able to do so.
Haley Coles executive director of Sonoran Prevention Works, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that aims to remove barriers to health for people affected by substance use disorders said the non-partisan support of the bills is an indicator that Ducey will likely sign in favor of both the sterile needle exchange and fentanyl test strips.
“Losing so many people last year and continuing to lose so many people this year to overdose, it’s just a really bad idea to not throw every tool we possibly have at this,” Coles said.
Advocates are hoping Ducey will reward their efforts with a law this year considering this legislative session marks the fourth consecutive in a row where they have tried to advance legalizing needle exchanges.
“There has been a lot of attention being paid to the continuing overdose, Hepatitis C and HIV syndemics and there’s been a lot of attention being paid to this bill in particular,” Coles said. “This is just one of those big huge policy recommendations and changes that has kind of just been floating around that policymakers have not been willing to take the next step on, and I just think they are out of options.”
Research has shown that people who use syringe service programs are more likely to seek treatment and that these programs do not increase drug use or crime.
“By legalizing sterile needle exchanges and allowing clinics to pass out fentanyl test strips, Arizona could go a long way in helping the health of people with substance use disorders,” Coles said.
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