MACo Supports Drug Outreach Programs; Advocates for “Local Option”

On March 22, 2016 Natasha Mehu, MACo Policy Analyst, testified in support with amendments to SB 97, Public Health – Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Programs, to the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

This 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 the MACo 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.

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.

As part of its 2016 legislative initiatives, MACo advocates broadly in support of legislative action providing counties with resources to address drug misuse and provide vital education, prevention, and treatment. HB 468 provides counties with an additional tool to tackle the problem.

This legislation passed the Senate (41-6) on February 18, 2016.

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