FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill regulating the disposal and free handout of needles by a 28-10 vote on Tuesday.
House Bill 160 would require the Department of Public Health to establish guidelines for safe disposal of hypodermic syringes, needles and what’s known as “sharps” containers. In addition, HB 160 would require the guidelines to be provided to certain medical facilities and pharmacies.
It was an amendment to HB 160 that would place further restrictions on needle exchanges, legalized under last year’s anti-heroin legislation (Senate Bill 192), which prompted debate on the Senate floor.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said supporters of SB 192 “sold” skeptical senators on giving drug addicts free needles by promising one-for-one exchanges. He said supporters were “emphatic to say it would not be a giveaway program but rather individuals could bring in one dirty needle and get one clean one in response.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he too was disappointed to learn over the interim that some health departments in Kentucky decided not to require a dirty needle for every clean needle they give out.
“I will vote for this bill defining a needle exchange as a one-for-one exchange, which was the original intent, and if it doesn’t pass … I will file a bill next year to eliminate the needle exchange all together. I’m willing to give this one more year.”
Last year, Louisville adopted a needle distribution program that doesn’t require a one-to-one exchange of needles. When the proposed amendment to HB 160 was debated in a recent Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, argued against the amendment, saying that if the goal is to decrease the spread of disease, public health workers should be able to hand out free needles without being required to collect a used one.
HB 160 now goes back to the House for consideration of changes the Senate made to the bill.