Pennsylvania Law: Needle Exchanges Ruled Illegal
Dianna Pagan has been distributing clean needles for the past 15 years. She became HIV positive through drug use at the young age of 19. She knows that HIV and Hepatitis C are diseases that linger on, even if a person gets clean and turns their life around.
For years, Dianna has faced the threat of arrest or heavy fines for working with needle exchanges. Pennsylvania needle exchanges ruled illegal, became a state law prohibiting distribution or carrying syringes for drug use under its paraphernalia law. Things have changed locally in Philadelphia and Allegheny County. The local governments in these places have ruled to oppose state law in which needle exchanges ruled illegal are in place and make it legal to distribute clean needles to prevent the spread of disease.
The needle exchange program in Philadelphia has been a huge public health success. Before the city condoned the program in 1992, half of all new cases of HIV came from needle use. After then-Mayor Ed Randell declared a health emergency and allowed access to clean needles, the number dropped dramatically. Now only 5 percent of new HIV cases are related to drug use.
In Pennsylvania as a whole, however, the problem is troubling. Heroin use is rising along with numbers of new HIV and Hepatitis C cases. The stateâ€™s public health and drug treatment agencies say that their hands are tied. They are prohibited from opening needle exchanges because needle exchanges ruled illegal.
Some progress is being made on a state level. In 2009, Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Board of Pharmacy declared it legal to sell syringes without a prescription, but it is still illegal to carry a syringe for drug use. Pharmacists have the right to choose not to sell syringes to people that they suspect of drug use.
There are a few ways that different levels of government could tackle the problem. Mr. Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania, could declare an executive action. Mr. Rendell did this in Philadelphia, as did Mr. Pence in Indiana. This Governor does want to limit the spread of HIV and Hep C according to a statement issued by the deputy press secretary Ajeenah Amir. He has not stated his opinion on needle exchanges ruled illegal, so it is not known if he would support such an action.
State lawmakers in the legislative branch could also take action. If they removed the word â€œsyringeâ€ from the stateâ€™s paraphernalia law, it would give needle exchange programs more protection. Local governments could also solve the problem in their individual areas. Philadelphia and Allegheny County have already done this by declaring a health emergency or passing local ordinances.
The success of needle exchanges in Indiana and Philadelphia prove that they are an effective way to fight the growing HIV epidemic. It is time for Pennsylvania to take action as well. Not only will it save lives, but it will also save the state money. If these diseases are not prevented, then they will have to be treated.