MACo Advocates for County-Approved Drug Programs

On January 29, 2016, MACo Policy Analyst Natasha Mehu testified to the Senate Finance Committee in support with amendments on a bill would authorize syringe exchange services within local jurisdictions.

These programs provide people with addiction clean needles and linkages to treatment, counseling and education services. Baltimore City and Prince George’s County are currently the only jurisdictions authorized to operate such programs.

MACo sought amendments that would clarify this “local option” by specifying that the governing body for a jurisdiction determine whether the program may operate within its borders — a decision the bill currently leaves up to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the County Health Officer.

From MACo’s testimony:

MACo supports much of the structure the bill provides. This includes provisions that require programs to provide linkage to drug counseling, treatment and recovery services; testing for HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases; HIV and viral hepatitis education; overdose prevention education and access to or referrals to obtain naloxone. MACo also supports the requirements for staff expertise, security for program locations, and equipment – all as necessary assurances for a safe offering.

However, MACo urges amendments to the “local option” authority in this bill. As written, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the county Health Officer approve whether individual syringe programs may operate within a given jurisdiction. Rather, the governing body of the jurisdiction, elected by and accountable to residents of the county, should absolutely determine whether syringe service programs are authorized to operate. This also ensures an open, publicly inclusive process for any such decision.

The bill was introduced on behalf of the DHMH and was generated based on recommendations from last year’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.

For more information:

SB 97 – Public Health – Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Programs

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.