Md. Senate approves needle exchange expansion

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate on Thursday approved a measure to allow drug users to get more than one clean needle at one time in Baltimore’s exchange program.

The measure, approved with no debate on a 39-5 vote, repeals a requirement that needles be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.

The bill does not spell out a specific number of needles people could get at once. Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, said supporters have a limit of about 50 in mind, and a change in the legislation may be needed to reflect that. A similar bill is pending in the House of Delegates.

Other cities have expanded such programs to cut down on diseases like AIDS that spread by intravenous drug use among other factors. Baltimore’s program was established in 1994 despite opposition, but health officials have credited it with reducing the transmission of disease.

“I think it’s proven to be very effective with decreasing the transmission of intravenous disease and to really deal with the public health issue that we have been trying to deal with for years with drug use in the population,” Jones-Rodwell said.

The bill was sponsored by Baltimore senators.

The program serves about 2,500 people annually in the city and exchanges about 200 needles for each of them each year. It also educates participants about the dangers of contracting HIV infections through needle-sharing practices and refers them to substance abuse programs.

The city’s health department estimates that when the program changes to a needs-based model, it will give each participant an additional 60 syringes annually. A state analysis estimates costs to the city’s health department would rise by $19,500 in the next fiscal year with the change in the program. Each syringe costs 13 cents.

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