Arizona Lawmakers, Governor Move Toward Harm Reduction

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Arizona’s Governor and lawmakers are displaying an enlightened shift in strategy addressing the overdose crisis. After the state experienced an estimated 48 percent jump in overdose deaths during the first eight months of 2020 (a 32 percent increase in most populous Maricopa County in all of 2020), they decided to embrace harm reduction.

On May 14 the Arizona House voted 48–11 to pass SB 1486, which removed fentanyl test strips from the list of legally prohibited drug paraphernalia, after the Arizona Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill. On May 19, Governor Ducey (R) signed it into law.

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Fentanyl test strips, made by a Canadian biotechnology company, were designed for urine drug screening. The tests strips are not approved for sale in U.S. drugstores or other outlets by the Food and Drug Administration, but harm reduction organizations—including “needle exchange” programs— have been buying them and handing them out to IV drug users who use them “off‐​label” to test heroin, cocaine, and other drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Researchers claim the tests strips are highly accurate and can detect up to 10 analogs of fentanyl. They also find they save lives by causing drug users to use smaller amounts and/​or take a drug more slowly when they detect it contains fentanyl.

When signing the bill into law, Governor Ducey said:

We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.

Speaking of “needle exchange” programs, syringe services programs (SSPs), the term public health professionals use for “needle exchange” programs, are endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Medical Association. In January 2020, then‐​Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Professor Ricky D. Bluthenthal of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine spoke at the Cato Institute on the benefits of syringe services programs. They are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. They also serve to reduce overdose deaths because one of their services is to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone as well as fentanyl test strips and other drug‐​testing materials. Dr. Adams pointed out SSPs offer the added benefits of screening IV drug users for hepatitis and HIV so they can get treatment, and bringing many of them into rehab programs……

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