Lawmaker looks to legalize needle exchange programs in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A state lawmaker wants to allow needle and syringe exchange programs to operate in Pennsylvania. Currently, they are prohibited since they break drug paraphernalia laws.

Staffers at Retreat Behavioral Health in Lancaster County see first-hand the toll drugs can take on the body. They also see how the lack of access to clean needles can have life-long impacts on someone's health.

“Especially with intravenous drug users," said Peter Schorr, Retreat CEO. "HIV and Hep-C are very prominent and you see it quite a bit.”

With legal exceptions in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, needle and syringe exchange programs in the rest of the state are illegal under current drug paraphernalia laws. State Sen. Anthony Williams of Delaware and Philadelphia Counties plans to introduce legislation to make it legal for these exchange programs to operate across the state.

“These would be local decisions made by the local government as to whether they want to have a program in their communities or not," said Sen. Williams.

A recent study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome estimates Philadelphia's syringe exchange program, which began in 1992, has prevented more than 10,000 HIV diagnoses in its first 10 years.

While some opponents believe these exchange programs only encourage drug use, Schorr says it's about public safety.

"The only thing it does is encourage people not to use and spread disease around to other people," said Schorr.

Schorr hopes if this legislation were to pass it would also provide drug users taking part in the exchange information on how to get treatment.

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