ST. GEORGE — A bill to authorize needle exchange programs in Utah has found overwhelming support in a House Health and Human Services Committee with a favorable recommendation in a 10-0 vote before clearing the Utah House in a 72-0 favorable vote with 3 not voting.
The bill, 2016 HB 308, proposes to enact the Disease Prevention and Substance Abuse Reduction Amendments to authorize the operation of needle exchange programs while requiring that the activities and outcomes of the syringe programs be reported to the Legislature every two years.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, would establish a needle exchange program expected to reduce harm to drug users by reducing their chances of obtaining a life-threatening disease and also provide an opportunity to interface with people who can introduce the drug user to treatment opportunities.
“It’s a proven risk-reduction method of transmitting hepatitis C and AIDS,” Eliason said on the House floor.
While hepatitis C now has a cure, Eliason said, the typical 12-week regimen runs between $84,000 and $100,000 per patient – a cost that could be avoided through risk-reduction.
Eliason went on to say that 50 percent of all hepatitis C patients are on Medicaid, which is a significant cost for taxpayers to incur now that there is a drug that addresses the issue.
Furthermore, when an individual goes to exchange the potentially contaminated needles, they must do so in person. At that time, he said, the individual must be informed about disease testing programs, blood borne illnesses and treatment options.
According to a lead fiscal analyst with the state, attorney Russell T. Frandsen, the bill has zero fiscal impact to state and local governments and individuals.
“It’s because,” Eliason said, “I’ve been told that there are a number of entities that would do this voluntarily and would do so gladly.”
Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, who is a physician himself, said he fully supports the bill.
“To me, this is a very straightforward concept that we need to promote amongst our community members who are struggling with addiction,” Redd said.
The bill is part of a package of opiate abuse prevention bills proposed in an effort to curb the opiate and heroin addiction epidemic facing Utah and the nation.
The bill proposing the amendments to Utah law received a 10-0 favorable recommendation, with 2 not voting, Feb. 16 from the House Health and Human Services Committee, passed the House Feb. 25 in a 72-0 with 3 not voting. It then moved to the Senate where it first received a 4-2 favorable recommendation from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Feb. 29 in the Senate. The bill is currently on the second reading calendar for the Senate and has yet to move to its final voting phase in that chamber.
From Southern Utah, Reps. Brad Last, John Westwood, Michael Noel, V. Lowry Snow, Don Ipson, Merrill Nelson, and Jon Stanard all voted for the bill in the House.
- Full text of bill: Utah 2016 HB 308 – Disease Prevention and Substance Abuse Reduction Amendments – bill as introduced
- Feb. 25 House floor debate HB308
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