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New Arizona bill aims to fight overdose crisis with syringe exchange programs

Another city sees big spike in heroin overdoses
Posted at 6:42 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 22:22:24-04

Arizona has seen an increase in overdose deaths over the past year, according to the CDC, and Arizona lawmakers are considering a bill that would help bring outreach programs to those at risk of overdosing.

SB1250 would legalize --under state law--the use of syringe service programs. It would allow for the exchange of dirty syringes for clean ones. Right now, that's legal under federal law but not Arizona law. In Arizona, having a dirty needle would mean possessing drug paraphernalia.

"We've really reduced opioids overdoses in terms of prescription opioids but overdoses are through the roof through illegal use of drugs, and that's what we're trying to address," said Senator Nancy Barto.

Republican Senator Nancy Barto sponsored the bill.

"It puts the structure in place so that they're done right. We know they can be done right and right now--those that are in place are illegal and not well run. And so we're trying to fix that," she said.

These programs allow providers to create relationships with drug addicts. They can refer users to substance abuse treatment or HIV, hepatitis and STD testing. They can also provide overdose prevention education.

Andre Norman has spent years working with drug addicts in the community. When he was younger, he was involved in gangs, drugs, and violent crimes.

"Selling and handling drugs, and fighting with people, stabbing people that was my life in prison," said Norman. "I saw a lot of people suffering, I myself was suffering."

Six years into prison, he decided to turn his life around. He taught himself how to read, got his GED and after he got out, he became a Harvard Fellow.

For the past few years, Norman has worked with the Genius Network in Tempe reaching out to those in the Valley struggling with drug addiction. He's a supporter of SB1250.

"Every addict, every sibling every loved one deserves this program because we're talking about saving lives," he said.

According to Sonoran Prevention Works, 17% of HIV and aids cases in Arizona are related to injection drug use, and one in three young injection users has Hepatitis C.

"If we don't give them clean needles, they're going to use drugs anyways. What's the back end of not having clean needles? A spread of crazy diseases that we don't want and medical costs that the state doesn't want," said Norman.

Supporters believe this will allow nonprofits and health programs to meet addicts where they are.

"I'm an example of many that success is possible. And when you go out and see this person that is suffering--tell them I saw the hope, I saw the transformation in someone else, and it can also happen to you. Belief starts with hope," said Norman.

If passed, the bill will also allow providers to apply for federal funding. SB1250 has received bipartisan support. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is now in the House waiting for a vote.

You can learn more about syringe access programs in Arizona here.

The CDC also has information on syringe services programs and their benefits.