Syringe Service Programs Are Important to Public Health

TMA Written Testimony

Testimony on House Bill 75 by Rep. Ina Minjarez
House Public Health Committee 

April 3, 2019

Chair Thompson and Committee Members:

The Texas Medical Association and its nearly 53,000 members are grateful for the opportunity to comment in support of House Bill 75, protecting employees, volunteers, duly authorized agents, or participants in syringe service programs (SSPs) from the possibility of drug charges under the state’s controlled substances act. TMA thanks Representative Minjarez for her leadership in proposing this legislation.

SSPs are proven to prevent the spread of infectious disease by providing free, sterile injection equipment and safe disposal of used needles and syringes for people who inject drugs.  SSPs cannot function without the time and talents of dedicated employees, volunteers, and other individuals who operate them. Currently, Texas’ controlled substance act presents a deterrent to trained health professionals and caring volunteers who would otherwise readily implement SSPs in their communities. The controlled substance act identifies hypodermic needles and syringes as drug paraphernalia, and criminalizes the act of distributing sterile injection equipment to protect public safety. We believe it should not be a crime to keep people safe, nor should unnecessary barriers interfere with delivery of effective public health interventions. Individuals participating in SSPs should be protected from the possibility of criminal charges in their roles.

As background, people who inject drugs are at risk of acquiring and transmitting blood-borne infections such as HIV and viral hepatitis through unsafe injection practices. One in ten HIV diagnoses occur among people who inject drugs, and in case reports of hepatitis C where information was available, 64 percent indicated injection drug use.    People who inject drugs are also at risk of overdose. Drug overdose death rates in Texas were higher in 2017 than at any point in the past two decades,  driven by an escalating crisis of opioid use and the growing presence of fentanyl – a highly lethal synthetic opioid – in the illicit drug supply.  These health events are costly to society: the estimated lifetime cost of treating one person with HIV is nearly $400,000,  and the average hospital admission for opioid overdose costs $92,400. 

SSPs limit infectious disease transmission by promoting safe injection practices.  Further, SSPs often seek to educate people who inject drugs on various methods of HIV, hepatitis, and overdose prevention, including how to administer life-saving opioid overdose reversal medication.    HIV testing, hepatitis testing, and linkages to medical treatment and social services are also frequently available through SSPs. Abundant evidence shows SSPs prevent outbreaks, save lives, and reduce infection – and overdose – related health care costs without increasing drug use or crime.    They are an essential component of a comprehensive public health response to injection drug use and addiction.

SSPs exemplify Texans helping Texans, and make our communities healthier and safer. We urge the legislature to let willing individuals rise to meet an important public health need without fear of legal repercussions. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

86th Texas Legislature Letters and Testimonies

TMA Legislative main page


Last Updated On

April 02, 2019

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