Georgia House OKs needle exchange bill to fight HIV

A bill creating a needle exchange program to help reduce HIV rates in Georgia passed comfortably in the House on Monday.

Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican from Athens who sponsored the legislation, said House Bill 217 would create a syringe services program to allow people who inject drugs to exchange used needles for clean ones. Programs like these reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“Contaminated syringes and needles affect more than just drug users or the drug dependent,” Gaines said Monday as he introduced the bill on the House floor. “This issue has implications for every community across our state. It is a bipartisan issue where we can all agree.”

Gaines (top photo) also cited the financial benefits of syringe services programs.

“Treating lifelong HIV-positive or hepatitis C patients costs hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “Adopting needle exchange programs is the responsible way to save lives and save money.”

The House passed the bill 166 to 3. It will now go over to the Senate for consideration.

The House Health & Human Services Committee passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 19.

A number of other bills addressing the state’s HIV epidemic are making their way through the legislature.

A Republican-sponsored bill that would make it easier for HIV-positive Medicaid recipients to receive the most effective medications had a hearing before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Monday. No vote was taken on the bill.

Another Republican-sponsored bill would create a three-year pilot program to provide free PrEP medication to people at high risk of being infected with HIV. That bill passed in the House Health & Human Services Committee and awaits a vote before the full House.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat from Tucker, is still waiting for a committee meeting to address her bill that would ensure the state’s K-12 students receive accurate information about HIV during sex-ed classes. 

Georgia is number one in the rate of new HIV infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.