in the State Senate
on May 3, 2022, by a vote of
Purpose: The purpose of this vote was to study the future implementation of overdose prevention sites (OPS) with clean needles for opioid users, in order to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. Dirty needles with high doses of opioids are common reasons for such deaths, and H.728 aims to prevent some of these.
If H.728 becomes law, carrying needles distributed from a “needle exchange program” will not be considered “drug paraphernalia,” which constitutes a crime.
Vermont currently has 4 locations with needle exchange programs in Burlington, St. Johnsbury and White River Junction.
H.728 would allow more organizations to run needle exchange programs. Under current law, needle exchange program must be run by an aid service organization, a substance abuse treatment provider or a licensed health care provider.
Finally, this gives direction for future research: a working group on OPS, who are obligated to draft an actionable plan for setting up OPS across Vermont. The Department of Health is asked to report back to the Legislature on the requests for overdose treatment it has received, and how it responds to those requests. Vermont’s Department of health is asked to report back to the Legislature on the probable availability of federal funds for this study and for OPS.
Analysis: Those voting YES expressed optimism that the study of overdose prevention sites would revlea the potential to save lives and lower overall rates of crime and drug use. There are currently more than 120 overdose prevention sites in areas like Canada, Europe and Australia, leading to substantial reductions in overdose deaths. The first legal sites have been set up in New York City, and Rhode Island became the first state to authorize overdose prevention sites in 2021. To date, there has never been a single overdose fatality at any OPS worldwide. There are large disparities across Vermont in regards to opioid abuse treatment, and this would allow the Legislature to begin identifying areas in Vermont which need stronger coverage. Some voting YES expressed frustration that H.728 was only a study, and wanted immediate action on setting up OPS in Vermont.
Those voting NO were concerned that H.728 could results in adoption of OPS across Vermont, making the jobs of police more difficult by giving individuals needles which could easily be mistaken for drug paraphernalia. They may also have been concerned that providing free needles would make it less likely that drug users would want to quit, removing a sense of personal responsibility since they know they can inject more safely due to government oversight of needle exchange programs.
As Recorded in the Senate Journal, Tuesday, May 3, 2022: “…Thereupon, the pending question, Shall the Senate propose to the House to amend the bill as recommended by the Committee on Health and Welfare, as amended?, was decided in the affirmative. Thereupon, third reading of the bill was ordered on a roll call, Yeas 22, Nays 7. (Read the Journal, p. 1071-77 )
How They Voted
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – YES
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – NO
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – NO
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Russ Ingalls (R-Essex-Orleans) – NO
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – ABSENT
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – NO
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – YES
Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) – YES
Kesha Ram (D-Chittenden) – YES
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – YES
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – YES
Joshua Terenzini (R-Rutland) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – NO
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES
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