Mar 15, 2016 5:32 PM

Lawmaker: legalize needle exchange or see spike in HIV, Hep C

CONCORD - A bill under consideration would pave the way for legal clean-needle exchanges in the state.

"I don't want to see another child - I don't want to see my children step on a needle in the park because we could have done something," said bill sponsor Rep. Joseph Hannon, R, Lee.

Under current law, hypodermic needles and syringes can only be dispensed by pharmacists, and possessing a used syringe with heroin residue on it is a felony.

HB 1681 would allow trace amounts of illegal substances, like heroin, on needles.

"You have a miniscule, microscopic amount that can technically put you in jail for seven years. So why would someone hold on to it and not just throw it in the park?" Hannon said.

Hannon hopes users would be encouraged to swap dirty needles for clean ones and learn about addiction treatment.

As written, the bill does not require state or taxpayer funding. Exchanges would operate on a private level through donations. Hannon said too many people are using and dying to wait for a state program.

"Even if we set it up tomorrow it would take a year or two to get this up and running and in that period of time we could be facing an outbreak with hundreds, if not more, people getting HIV or hepatitis," he said.

Some suggest HIV and Hepatitis C could soon see a resurgence in New Hampshire because of the drug epidemic. Health officials are not reporting an increase at this time but, a similar scenario took place in Indiana.

Opponents of the bill said if used needles are not considered paraphernalia, it could complicate arrests, decrease convictions and ultimately prevent an addict from getting into treatment.

Sandwich Police Chief Douglas Wyman said he supports exchange programs but opposes removing the penalties for possessing residual amounts of heroin. He says arresting people in that situation sometimes is the only way to get them into treatment.

The House Criminal Justice Committee that heard testimony Tuesday was deadlocked on whether to pass the bill. Next, it heads to the House for a full vote.

Colleen Shaughnessy is a multimedia journalist for NH1 News. You can email her at and follow her on Twitter, @ColleenNH1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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