House Signs Off On Needle Exchange Bill

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File photo(Photo: ZaldyImg (flickr))
File photo(Photo: ZaldyImg (flickr))

Lawmakers in the Ohio House have passed a bill that will take down some of the barriers local communities face in developing needle exchange programs for IV drug users.

But the bipartisan bill had plenty of opposition.

While 28 states have a similar law, it’s not a popular one, admitted Lakewood Democrat Nickie Antonio – but she said it is a practical one. Many Ohio communities are battling IV drug use – especially heroin – and the shutdown of so-called pill mills where prescription painkillers were handed out has only made the problem worse.

The bill would take away the requirement that a local health commissioner declare an emergency before a syringe exchange program can be created. Antonio said the goal is to reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C through the sharing of used needles, and to reduce the numbers of dirty needles being tossed away in parks and other public places.

By allowing the exchange of one for one – one sterile syringe for a dirty syringe, if you will – we are able to prevent HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne infections.

But while the bill had a Republican co-sponsor, some Republicans reacted strongly, including John Becker of Cincinnati, who called it – quoting here – an element of a liberal social agenda.

“The answer is treatment, not enablement. There’s a reason we don’t provide clean shot glasses to alcoholics.

The message should be, ‘shape up or ship out’; not ‘if it feels good, do it’.

Republican Matt Lynch of Solon south of Cleveland said studies are inconclusive on whether needle exchange programs really stop HIV and hepatitis C transmission, but that one thing was certain – those needles would be used to inject dangerous illegal drugs.

“If this is such a good idea, then let me suggest that we put the Great Seal of the State of Ohio on every free clean needle package, so that as that person lies in the gutter or in a shooting gallery that this body determined that it was a good idea to help them get there.”

But conservative Republican Ron Amstutz of Wooster closed out the debate with a lukewarm argument in favor of the bill, which he says is a step toward recovery from the internal attacks on communities by addiction.

“Our permissive society, the feel-good, take whatever it takes to feel good, has been around for several decades. This is the product of that….I think this is not the answer but I do think it is a little piece of the answer.”

This is the third time this bill has been proposed, but it’s the first time it’s passed the House. It went through with all but one Democrat voting for it, and 22 mostly conservative Republicans opposing it.

The bill now moves on to the Senate.

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