Innamorato, Struzzi introduce legislation to establish Syringe Service Programs in Pa.

Bill aims to reduce overdose deaths, increase connections to care

HARRISBURG, Jan. 25 — To compassionately address the rise in opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic, state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, and Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, introduced bipartisan legislation that will allow for local Syringe Service Programs in Pennsylvania.

Syringe Service Programs, or SSPs, provide access to clean syringes and other medical supplies, disposal of needles, as well as referrals to drug treatment, disease testing, naloxone, and other health services. SSPs are part of a harm reduction approach to addressing the opioid epidemic. While SSPs currently operate in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, SSPs are illegal throughout Pennsylvania under current law. This legislation would permit local service providers to establish SSPs and bring in federal dollars to fund these life-saving programs.

"The federal government is allocating funding to states that offer SSPs, but Pennsylvania can't access this money until SSPs can operate in every corner of the commonwealth. I urge the Republican leadership to bring this bill up to a vote. If that was the case, I believe there are enough votes to pass, and we'd be able to unlock national funding and expertise to support local programs and save countless lives," said Innamorato.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to sponsor this bipartisan legislation with Representative Innamorato that will help people get into recovery and hopefully return to a normal, productive quality of life. People need hope and to know that others care,” said Struzzi. “In these times of extreme mental, social and physical stress, it is imperative that we do all that we can to treat addiction and provide these harm reduction services. In addition, by having this legislation written into law, it will open the door to millions in federal dollars that we can use to truly impact the lives of Pennsylvania residents and families struggling with addiction.”

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has the 3rd highest rate of drug overdose deaths nationally and the 9th highest rate of new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections. Numerous studies have shown that access to clean syringes reduces HIV, hepatitis B and C transmission, and other blood-borne pathogens in people who inject drugs.

This legislation, Innamorato said, would help public health professionals save lives and reduce the spread of disease related to injection drug use.

Innamorato lost her father to an opioid addiction in 2009 and was a volunteer with Prevention Point Pittsburgh.  

"Supporting harm reduction policies and programs is my commitment to my dad's memory, but it's also my commitment to the neighbors whom we've lost,” said Innamorato. "Dead people can't recover; we need policies that keep people from dying while we work toward long-term solutions to the overdose crisis. Both Democrats and Republicans recognize this bill as an effective measure to combat the opioid crisis. It's time for action."

“Prevention Point Pittsburgh's 26 years of experience operating a SSP and other harm reduction services in Southwestern Pennsylvania demonstrates the ongoing need for such resources in every corner of the commonwealth. PPP applauds the introduction of this legislation as outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C have become increasingly common among people who inject drugs when they do not have access to sterile injection equipment and information regarding safer substance use strategies,” said Aaron Arnold, executive director of Prevention Point Pittsburgh. “This legislation is one of many steps needed to begin undoing the ‘War on Drugs’ era policies that criminalized drugs and the people who use them at the cost of the safety of our communities."

More than 400 Syringe Service Programs are currently operating in 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.