Syringe Access Proven to Reduce HIV and other infectious diseases
Harm Reduction Goes Mainstream: Maryland joins Florida, Kentucky, Indiana and Republican-Led Congress in Expanding Syringe Access
Today, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed the Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Act, after it passed the Maryland General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation, also referred to as the Syringe Services Programs Bill, will allow thousands of Maryland residents to access life-saving sterile syringe exchange programs.
Maryland has grappled with a rising rate of new HIV infections, recently ranking 2nd in the nation for the rate of new HIV infections per 100,000 residents. Among those newly diagnosed in 2012, young people 20 to 29 year olds made up a shocking 31 percent of new cases. In 2012, 22% of Maryland HIV cases in men and 26% in women were a result of injection drug use.
The new law authorizes local health departments and community-based organizations throughout Maryland to establish sterile syringe exchange programs with approval from the state’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Such programs have a proven, decades-long track record of preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, in addition to being a major entryway to treatment for people who use drugs and reducing problematic drug use. Despite these benefits, previously the only jurisdictions in Maryland authorized to create syringe exchange programs were Prince George’s County (which has not set up any programs) and Baltimore City (which has a successful program).
With the advent of the new law, Maryland joins the growing number of states to recently reform syringe access over the last year, including Florida, Kentucky and Indiana. Due to recent Congressional action to modify the decades-long ban on federal funding for syringe access programs, these newly expanded programs will be able to seek federal support for their work.
"There's now a growing consensus throughout our nation that drug use is best treated as a health issue," said Kaitlyn Boecker, Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “By expanding its syringe access programs, Maryland will be able to significantly reduce rates of HIV and other preventable diseases. We hope this is just the beginning of broader efforts in Maryland to reduce preventable harms caused by outdated drug laws and drug misuse."
“Syringe service programs are not only vital in reducing the harm of injection drug use, but they provide a humane and compassionate approach to addressing substance-use disorders,” said Mark Sine, Director of the Baltimore Student Harm Reduction Coalition. “Maryland has many active community-based organizations who will be able to significantly expand their positive impact with this new law.”
Advocates have championed the syringe services bill, sponsored by Delegate Clarence Lam, over the past two legislative sessions. Supporters include key local stakeholders from the University of Maryland School of Law Drug Policy Clinic, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP), University of Maryland Medical Center, and many others.
Syringe access programs are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and U.S. Conference of Mayors. In addition to significantly reducing the spread of infectious diseases by people who use drugs, syringe exchange programs save the lives of police, firefighters and other first responders. Police are regularly stuck with syringes in the line of duty (a study of police officers in Rhode Island found nearly 1 in 3 officers had been stuck by a syringe in their career). Law enforcement leaders across the nation – are strong proponents of syringe exchanges, for their own safety and for that of the communities they serve.
“We have ignored innovative, evidence-based programs that can reduce the negative consequences of substance-use for too long. I’m thrilled Maryland is moving past failed drug war policies and implementing well-documented strategies that will save lives across our state,” said Sine.