Arizona House OKs bill legalizing needle exchange programs

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House has approved a measure that would legalize needle exchange programs in the state as part of an effort to cut down on diseases and overdoses among illicit drug users.

The measure by Republican Rep. Tony Rivero was approved by a 50-10 vote on Wednesday and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Rivero has pushed for a law legalizing needle exchange programs for the past three years but never managed to get both the House and Senate to sign off on his proposals. This year’s effort has been slightly recast to put more of a focus on overdose prevention and efforts to get people into treatment.

Intravenous drug users have high rates of HIV and Hepatitis infections and needle exchange programs have been proven to greatly diminish the spread of the diseases. Privately run needle exchange programs also allow health workers to hand out test kits for the deadly opiate fentanyl and an opiate overdose antidote known as Naloxone. Many also work with addicts to offer treatment options.

Rivero said during a committee hearing last month that Arizona is one of the only states that criminalizes a harm-reduction approach to treating drug addiction.

All Democrats and all but 10 House Republicans voted in favor of Rivero’s measure. He represents the Phoenix suburb of Peoria.