Virginia Legalizes Syringe Access Amid Opioid Public Health Emergency

By Victoria Kim 07/06/17

The harm reduction law aims to curb the transmission of hepatitis C and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

Image: 
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the bill back in February. Photo via YouTube

Health agencies throughout the state of Virginia have been given the green light to distribute clean syringes to intravenous (IV) drug users. The new law allowing syringe access programs was signed in February by Governor Terry McAuliffe, and went into effect July 1st. 

After declaring the state’s opioid crisis a public health emergency back in November, the governor and state officials are hoping to reduce the transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

According to a CDC report from May, new hepatitis C (HCV) cases have gone up 294% between 2010-2015, with new HCV infection rates highest among “young persons who inject drugs.” In the report, the health agency said that public health initiatives like syringe access programs could help reduce rates of HCV transmission: 

“To promote HCV prevention, state laws can facilitate access to clean injection equipment and other services for persons who inject drugs, and thereby be an effective tool to reduce the risk for transmission and stop the increasing incidence of HCV infection in communities, particularly those most affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic.”

Dr. Laura Kornegay, health director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, says the new law promotes a “harm reduction strategy” to counter the effects of increasing IV heroin use. In addition, individuals who come in for clean needles will also be given access to information about treatment options and testing—a common feature of syringe exchange programs.

“We have concerns from a public health aspect about transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C with reuse of needles,” Kornegay told WHSV. “The rates of hepatitis C, which can be transmitted via intravenous drug use, have been increasing. We also worry about other infectious diseases that can be transmitted by intravenous drug use, including HIV and hepatitis B.”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 6,600 HCV cases were reported to the Virginia Department of Health in 2014. In 2015, more than 8,000 cases were reported.

In addition to declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency last year, Virginia officials issued a standing order to give a blanket prescription for all Virginians so they may be able to access naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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