Lawmakers consider syringe exchange program in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Lawmakers in Iowa are looking at adding a bill for a Syringe Exchange Program in Iowa.

The program would allow people who inject drugs to exchange their dirty needles for clean ones.

Advocates of this bill say that legalizing the exchange program would cut down on the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

In Iowa, cases of Hepatitis C are on the rise.

The Linn County Public Health Department says Hepatitis C cases have tripled in Iowa.

In 2000, doctors diagnosed about 700 Iowans with Hepatitis C compared to more than 2,000 cases in 2015.

The department says many of those cases involve people 30-years-old and younger who shared needles.

Some lawmakers worry that a program like this would encourage drug use.

But the Linn County Health Department says programs like these will really save people money on health care costs.

"You know think about HIV/AIDS, for example, it's about what $15-16,000 a year, we can avoid that completely same for Hepatitis C we can completely avoid that too," Pramod Dwivedi, Director of Linn County Public Health said.

The Iowa Public Health Departments says many of those cases come from people who inject drugs.

If the bill passes, people will be able to go to an exchange program location, drop off their dirty needles and get clean ones.

Critics of the bill are worried that it will only encourage drug use, but the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition says this program is already working to reduce diseases in 35 other states including Washington, D.C.

"These programs encourage people not to share their syringes or their needles by handing out new, unused sterile equipment and that has been proven in states across the country from Hawaii and California to New York to Wisconsin to Illinois to almost eliminate HIV from communities," Sarah Ziegenhorn, the Executive Director of Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition said.

The coalition said programs like these actually make people five times more likely to go into treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control runs federal funding for these types of programs, so if the bill passes organizations can apply to get a syringe exchange program federally funded.

The bill was cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, February 12.

Now it'll go before the Senate floor and if it passes it'll go through the House.

If it passes through the House, it could head to the governor's desk by the end of March or early April to be signed into law.