Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 511 last week, allowing the creation of privately funded needle exchange programs.
The new statute will reduce the spread of communicable disease among intravenous drug users and open the door to treatment and sobriety. It also will lower the risk of accidental needle sticks to law enforcement. For ordinary citizens, it will mean fewer dirty syringes littering public streets and paths.
And it won’t cost the state a dollar.
The legislation allows medical practitioners, law enforcement, tribes and registered social service entities to administer the exchange programs under careful oversight of the state Department of Health.
Information about drug treatment will come with the syringes. The programs also will safely collect and dispose of hypodermic needles.
SB 511 is modeled on an Indiana program first signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Pence. His conservative Republican successor recently renewed the law because it was working. It’s a solidly conservative idea aimed at helping law enforcement, saving the state money and reducing crime.
Needle exchanges have been shown to work. They reduce the spread of deadly diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C. Drug users involved in needle exchange programs are five times more likely to seek treatment. They have been shown to reduce the number of needles littering sidewalks and parks by as much as 86%. They reduce law enforcement needle sticks by as much as 66%. Some states have even seen a reduction in violent crime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly increased drug addiction and deaths. Deaths from synthetic opioid overdose, alone, have increased by at least 50% in Oklahoma since the pandemic began.
Congratulations to the coalition of public safety, health and mental health professionals and lawmakers who worked to pass SB 511.
Congratulations especially to Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, who worked on an initially unpopular idea for years and gradually won the day through determination, solid evidence and persuasion.