Sunday, March 23, 2014

Needle exchange in Baltimore City. Photo via

A new bill being pondered in the Maryland General Assembly would offer free needles to heroin users. The bill has already made it through the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland General Assembly, with supporters arguing that providing unlimited needles will greatly reduce HIV rates. If approved, roughly $250,000 of taxpayer money would go toward the project.

But Republican Delegate Michael Hough has found it outrageous that the bill has any support. “My constituents work very hard for their taxpayer dollars that they pay to the state, and they expect it to go to things like roads and schools, not to facilitating and subsidizing illegal drug use,” he said. "Heroin is a major epidemic. Kids are dying left and right. In fact, fatalities from heroin overdoses are up 54 percent across the state, and I just find it completely ridiculous and irresponsible that state lawmakers would vote to subsidize illegal behavior and vote to give people free needles [for] a drug that's killing people."

The harm reduction approach, which has been adopted for years in Vancouver, B.C., has shown promising results. A 15-year study published last June showed that the city’s efforts reduced illegal drug use and improved public safety. Almost 40 percent of users reported sharing needles in 1996; that number dropped to 1.7 percent in 2011. The percentage of users who accessed methadone treatment also jumped from 12 to 54 percent during that time period.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that Insite, Canada’s first legal supervised injection site, could remain open, but new federal legislation will make it much harder for similar sites to open in the future.

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