FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Carol Bush
Phone: (405) 557-7359
Bipartisan legislation to allow licensed professionals to dispose of dirty needles and conduct harm reduction services passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives today by a 73-19 vote.
House Bill 3028 was authored by Rep. Carol Bush and allows licensed professionals to perform syringe service programs approved by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) with the purpose to reduce dirty-needle proliferation and drug use.
Under HB 3028, organizations such as state agencies, county health departments, churches, for-profit businesses and other organizations may perform harm reduction programs. They must register with the state and comply with reporting structure designed to monitor needle and addition reduction. The bill stipulates that the State Dept. of Health must promulgate rules to govern and provide accountability for these programs.
When individuals suffering from drug addiction re-use and share needles, disease such as Hepatitis C and HIV spreads rapidly and law enforcement are endangered due to improperly disposed needles. According to the CDC, Oklahoma has the highest rate of deaths from Hepatitis C in the country.
“Oklahoma is facing an epidemic of drug use and infectious diseases, which is spurred by dirty needles, but House Bill 3028 can help lessen the spread of diseases,” Bush said. “Fighting the war against drugs will take different approaches, and this policy is one that will allow professionals to connect individuals using drugs to treatment options and necessary support services.”
“Other states across the country have seen significant improvement in their health-outcomes for diseases spread with dirty needles, as well as a reduction in rates of needle stick injuries for law enforcement,” Bush continued. “The statistics show that fewer contaminated needles on the streets means less crime overall and increased safety for law enforcement.”
The likelihood of needle stick injuries is high among law enforcement officers. Research shows that one in three law enforcement officers will experience a needle stick injury over the course of their career, and one in four will experience more than one such injury. However, harm reduction services in other states have successfully reduced law enforcement needle stick injuries by 30 to 66 %.
Harm reduction services also provide a way for trained professionals to meet with people suffering from addiction and provide resources to find treatment. South Carolina found that over 90% of participants in their needle exchange programs turn in syringes. New users of syringe service programs are 5 times more likely to enter drug treatment.
Bush said the bill was supported by the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund, Healthy Minds Policy Initiative, Oklahoma Academy of Physician Assistants, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Professional Firefighters of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Firefighters, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado and Lawton Chief of Police James Smith.
“Addiction is a disease, and it takes time and support to overcome,” Bush said. “Even though harm reduction programs won’t cure all drug addiction and disease in our state, this is a step in the right direction to begin addressing it.”
The bill includes a sunset date of July 1, 2025 to allow for future examination of the success of the program.
House Bill 3028 was co-authored by Rep. Daniel Pae (R-Lawton), Rep. John Waldron (R-Tulsa), Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) and Sen. Carri Hicks (R-Oklahoma City), who each were pursuing similar legislation.
House Bill 3028 passed the House 73-19 and moves to the Senate for consideration.