Bill permitting syringe services programs advanced

Senators gave first-round approval Jan. 26 to a bill that would protect public or behavioral health programs and pharmacies from drug paraphernalia offenses when distributing clean, hypodermic needles to community members.

LB307, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would allow local jurisdictions to permit public and behavioral health organizations to implement Syringe Services Programs by exempting staff and participants from drug paraphernalia prosecution.

SSPs provide many services, Hunt said, including referrals to substance abuse treatment programs, care for infectious diseases, overdose prevention, education on safe injection practices and supplies to prevent overdoses.

Hunt said SSPs also benefit communities by reducing litter and preventing used needles from being left in common spaces such as parks and playgrounds. In addition, studies show that SSPs can reduce the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C by 50%, she said.

The measure offers a tool for localities that wish to adopt an SSP, Hunt said, but does not require any local government to participate or implement a program.

Sen. Rick Holdcroft of Bellevue spoke in support of LB307. SSPs are a “smart balance” of harm reduction, rehabilitation and enforcement efforts, he said.

“Drug addiction and the spread of communicable disease is a scourge on our community,” Holdcroft said. “Local governments or qualified health care providers should be able to legally distribute clean needles under careful and responsible circumstances.”

La Vista Sen. John Arch supported the measure and said that while people may initially believe that SSPs enable participants to continue using drugs, evidence shows that individuals who access an SSP are actually five times more likely to seek treatment.

Also speaking in support of the bill was North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson, who said the bill would positively impact all Nebraskans, including those in his district.

“As you dig in the bill and look at what we’re trying to accomplish — particularly when it comes to not just handing out free needles, but being able to create a counseling environment — that’s the brilliance in this bill,” Jacobson said.

Lawmakers adopted a technical amendment from the Judiciary Committee 39-0 before advancing LB307 to select file on a 37-2 vote.

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