A three-member Senate panel Wednesday unanimously agreed to move a bill forward that would legalize needle exchange programs for people who inject drugs.
Needle exchange programs have been used in other states to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and help get drug users into treatment. In Iowa, it’s still illegal to distribute needles for drug use.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, (R-Urbandale), proposed the bill. He says hearing about needle exchange programs from doctors and law enforcement opened his eyes to what they can accomplish.
“I’m not condoning drug use,” Zaun says. “This is about public health, is what it’s about. So I feel very confident that this is the right thing to do and I plan on running it in committee next week.”
Zaun says he is confident the bill will get through the full Judiciary Committee and he is hopeful it will get taken up on the Senate floor.
Sen. Dan Dawson, (R-Council Bluffs), told the subcommittee he was a bit skeptical about needle exchange programs at first, but then he read up on them.
“I am 100 percent convinced that needle exchange program does mitigate infectious diseases,” Dawson says. “I think the data is clearly out there.”
Democratic Senator Nate Boulton also expressed support for the bill.
Deborah Thompson from the Iowa Department of Public Health told the subcommittee the IDPH has an idea of how a needle exchange would work in the state.
“We would be able to utilize existing resources, existing clinics and infrastructure that we would be able to build off of,” Thompson says. “So it is more the policy piece than the resource piece at this point, for the department in terms of implementation.”
The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy is undecided on syringe exchange legislation.