Nevada’s legislature repealed a law that made it illegal to possess hypodermic needles or syringes, which will allow nonprofit organizations to launch needle exchange or safe needle disposal harm reduction programs. The Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health must prepare operational guidelines, which the state Board of Health must approve, before organizations could implement any needle exchange programs. Proponents asserted that needle exchange programs would greatly reduce hepatitis C and HIV risk for illegal injection drug users. Estimates placed the lifetime cost of care for hepatitis C at $500,000, and the lifetime healthcare cost of HIV at a minimum of $355,000.
Prior to passage of Senate Bill (SB) 410, police could arrest people for needle possession, and many illegal injection drug users hid syringes in pockets or disposed of syringes in unsafe ways. As a result, police and first responders were more likely to stick themselves with addicts’ needles in the course of their work.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) took a neutral position on SB 410 after the bill’s authors removed a clause that would also have allowed for distribution/exchanges of clean crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia. In addition to helping arresting officers and first responders, Officer Chuck Callaway, MPD legislative lobbyist, stated the bill would make parks where addicts gather safer for children and parents.
Opponents feared that removing hypodermic needles from the list of prohibited devices would encourage drug use and allow for needle giveaways to minors. However, Northern Nevada Hopes and other harm reduction programs countered that inducing drug addicts to enter drug rehabilitation programs was a primary goal. Spokesperson Abigail Polus stated that her organization got to know drug users as people and gained their trust, hoping they would enter rehabilitation.