Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act of 2017
Introduced: September 19, 2017
Co-introducers: Councilmember Vincent Gray
Summary: To amend Title 25 of the D.C. Official Code to remove possession of certain drug paraphernalia for personal use as a grounds for denial of a license; to amend Title 47 of the D.C. Official Code to remove possession of certain drug paraphernalia for personal use as a grounds for denial of a license; to amend the District of Columbia Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1981 to remove penalties for possession of certain drug paraphernalia for personal use; to amend the Drug Paraphernalia Act of 1982 to allow possession of certain drug paraphernalia for personal use; and to amend the District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2001 to remove the prohibition on the operation of needle exchange programs in certain areas of the District.
Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:
I wrote this legislation, along with a bill I will introduce next to improve our medical marijuana program, as a response to the opioid crisis that we face in D.C., much like the rest of the country.
Last year, we recorded 216 opioid-related deaths, nearly triple the number in 2014.
Meanwhile, we continue to face an HIV epidemic, even as our evidence-based needle exchange programs have dramatically reduced new infections since we were freed from Congress’ prohibition of these life-saving activities.
This bill takes the next step in those efforts by allowing people to possess drug paraphernalia for personal use.
This is most important for improving access to clean syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, but there is also new technology that can save lives in other ways.
Drug testing kits allow people who are using heroin to test the strength of their drugs to avoid overdose, including detecting the presence of fentanyl or carfentanil, the opioids largely responsible for the increase in overdoses.
But these kits would be prohibited as drug paraphernalia under current law.
The Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act also repeals a congressionally imposed law from years ago that severely restricts the geographical area in which our needle exchange programs can operate.
That law, like so much that Congress forces on us, was not based on any scientific evidence. To the contrary, research shows that the law limits the efficacy of our harm reduction efforts.
We need to consider every evidence-based approach that might help us roll back the tide of overdoses, while also continuing our important progress stopping the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.
To that end, today I also sent a letter to Department of Health Director Dr. Nesbitt asking her to examine how D.C. could establish supervised injection sites, where injection drug users could be monitored to prevent overdoses and be connected to treatment.
I hope that Dr. Nesbitt and her team will find a way forward, and that she will also make the overdose prevention medication Narcan more available to our constituents, including by issuing a standing order to allow people to get Narcan over the counter at any pharmacy in the District.
September is Pain Awareness Month and Overdose Awareness Day just passed on August 31, reminding us of the urgency we must have in our response to these issues.