Representative Carrie Rheingans (D-Ann Arbor) proposes legislation supporting additional public health tools to combat overdoses and save lives
LANSING, Mich. — House Bills 5178 and 5179, introduced by Rep. Rheingans on Wednesday, support lifesaving harm reduction tools to reduce the rate of opioid deaths and the risk of HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks in Michigan.
Backed by the Michigan Overdose Prevention Coalition, HB 5178 would explicitly authorize the establishment and operation of syringe service programs in state law. It would also clarify that equipment provided by SSPs — such as needles and syringes — are not considered drug paraphernalia under state or local law and protect individuals who are obtaining or returning syringes from arrest, prosecution, charges or convictions. HB 5179 would decriminalize fentanyl testing strips. The two bills are expected to move together as a harm reduction package and are up for consideration in the Committee on Health Policy.
“I started my public health career 20 years ago volunteering in a syringe service program in my community and have seen first-hand how these programs save lives,” Rheingans said. “As the opioid overdose epidemic has worsened since then, we must take action to enable more of these crucial public health programs in every corner of the state. I am so grateful for the tireless advocates, family members and coalition partners who have been advancing this policy for years. It is urgent we get this done.”
SSPs are community-based prevention programs that connect people who use substances with comprehensive care and potentially life-saving resources. If enacted, the implications for SSPs would be far reaching.
Under current law, SSP staff, participants and persons attempting to safely discard used needles could face criminal charges. Although syringes and other equipment provided by health programs are not classified as drug paraphernalia, many cities and counties criminalize drug-paraphernalia-related activities without public health service exemptions.
“We’re seeing more and more people every year die of absolutely preventable causes,” said Steve Alsum, executive director at the Grand Rapids Red Project. “Unfortunately, because a lot of places in Michigan have drug paraphernalia laws, there are legal barriers to people accessing the tools they need to protect their health. Allowing for the operation of syringe service programs statewide will address a policy failure in our community by decriminalizing this public health tool.”
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services calls SSPs a “key component in a comprehensive harm reduction strategy.” Harm reduction practices include linking people to life-sustaining health services, enabling access to naloxone — medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — and making public health equipment like sterile syringes available through SSPs to prevent the spread of HIV and viral hepatitis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 11 counties in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula as highly vulnerable to an HIV outbreak among people who inject drugs. MDHHS ranked all Michigan counties based on their risk for an HIV outbreak among people who inject drugs, with 18 found to be most vulnerable. By expanding SSPs statewide, counties can provide more resources — including overdose recognition and response training — to support safer, healthier communities.
Additional sponsors for HB 5178 include: Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.); Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids); Rep. Natalie Price (D-Berkley); Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Twp.); Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn); Rep. Jimmie Wilson, Jr. (D-Ypsilanti); Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City); Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield); Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing); Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette); Rep. Jason Morgan (D-Ann Arbor); and Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Belleville). HB 5179 Is also sponsored by Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) and Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek).
For more information about SSPs, visit www.mioverdoseprevention.com.
Emily Henderson, McCall Hamilton