State lawmakers want to slow the spread of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C by making needle exchanges legal in Georgia.
On Tuesday, the Georgia House health committee approved a bill that would limit the liability for providers running such programs, which give intravenous drug users clean syringes.
“We don’t want anyone, including those who inject drugs, contracting these [viruses],” said Rep. Houston Gaines, the bill’s sponsor.
Needle exchanges, such as the one run by the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, are based on the principle of harm reduction; essentially, a focus on limiting the negative effects of drug use.
The bipartisan measure would give organizations that run such programs legal cover.
It would also allow the Georgia Department of Public Health to set rules for needle exchanges and make providers offer other services like HIV screenings and referrals to drug treatment programs.
“Put simply, any measure that reduces the spread of serious infectious diseases is good for the overall health of our state,” Gaines said.
Gaines also cited a recent effort announced by President Donald Trump to stop the spread of HIV in the U.S. in 10 years. The plan targets 48 counties around the country where the spread of the virus is the highest, including four in Georgia.
Experts say stopping HIV transmission won’t be an easy task, but Gaines argues programs like needle exchanges can help in the effort. Rep. Sharon Cooper, chair of the House health committee, agrees.
“It is a major problem in our state,” she said. “We have got to have programs where we can begin to get this epidemic under control.”
State lawmakers made a similar effort to legalize needle exchanges last legislative session, but the bill never made it to the governor’s desk. Gaines says he’s hopeful his measure won’t meet the same fate.