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House Approves Tennessee Needle-Exchange Programs to Be Run by Nonprofit Group

NASHVILLE — The state House today approved a bill allowing the operation of nonprofit groups interested in offering needle-exchange programs for opioid addicts which would be coupled with HIV and Hepatitis C testing and other services.

The vote on Rep. Patsy Hazlewood's bill was 71-17.

"I hate to say it, but the [clean] needles are the 'bait,'" the Signal Mountain Republican told colleagues during debate.

The nonprofit groups would operate at their own expense and not have taxpayer funding. They could offer addicts other wrap-around services including substance abuse and/or mental health counseling, shelters and help with searching for jobs.

Hazlewood said there are growing concerns about HIV and Hepatitis C following a 2015 disease outbreak in Scott County, Ind., caused by dirty, reused needles.

A subsequent federal Centers for Disease Control and prevention analysis found six indicators associated with the outbreak and found 220 rural counties with similar demographics including high poverty and unemployment across the U.S.

Forty-one were in Tennessee.

The list includes Rhea, Meigs, Bledsoe, Polk and Morgan counties.

Under the legislation, which previously passed the Senate but has to go back due to several House amendments, the state Department of Health would be in charge of setting rules and requirements for any nonprofit groups interested in the program.

No state funding would be used to carry out any needle-exchange programs.

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