Southern Arizona Aids Foundation on importance of Needle exchange programs

TUCSON, Ariz. - An Arizona house bill could legalize syringe exchange programs in the state is now headed to the state senate. 

House bill 2389 passed unanimously last week with a couple of stipulations, including that the number of needles given out match the number of needles returned to each program. 

Lawmakers say that keeps dirty needles out of public places where people might accidentally get poked.

RELATED: AZ House of Representatives poised to debate legalizing needle exchange programs

Christopher Lee Thomas with the Southern Arizona Aids Foundation says that syringe exchanges are harm reduction programs and it's the best avenue to engage with a population that is high stigmatized. 

"This is the access point the Governor and the Congress that everyone is talking about when they talk about the opioid epidemic - this is how we need to reach these people," says Thomas.

SAAF has had their Syringe Access Program since 2009 despite the programs being illegal in Arizona. 

"One of the biggest steps towards implementing some of these evidence programs in the state of Arizona is legalizing the exchanges which technically this program is not supposed to happen but we work with the County Health Department," says Thomas.

The program has expanded as they continue to see a bigger need for it because there has been a rise in the use of injection drugs.

Thomas says, legalization of needle exchange programs will enable better access to funding and help them protect clients."People that inject drugs are highly stigmatized by society it is highly difficult for them to access services without feeling like they're going to be judged or  feeling like they're going to be arrested."
     
Studies show syringe programs provide an education and do do not increase drug use but serve as harm reduction - reducing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and infections.

As well as serving as a gateway to help, "studies show that people that are injecting drugs are 5 times more likely to access treatment through a syringe access program."

This house bill has been moved for senate consideration but still has to go through the committee process. 

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