In Iowa, a spike in opioid abuse among people under 30 is causing another public health crisis: cases of Hepatitis C — a virus that attacks the liver — are up 375 percent according to the CDC.
To combat the problem, a group of Iowans has been operating an underground needle exchange. And now, they’re lobbying for a bill to legalize that effort. Under state law, it’s illegal to possess or distribute clean syringes for an “unlawful” purpose.
The Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, founded in 2016 by medical student Sarah Ziegenhorn, 29, provides weekly outreach services in cities across Iowa by distributing safer injection kits, condoms and test kits for HIV and hepatitis C. The clean syringes, provided by partnering non-profit Prairie Works, are handed out discreetly from the back of a car.
More than 30 states have legalized distribution of needles and Iowa could be next if the bill, slated for a vote in the Senate next week, continues its journey to the governor’s office. Ziegenhorn is a weekly fixture at state capitol, leading the charge and drawing numbers of constituents to bring the issue to the attention of legislatures.
This is the second attempt to legalize in a state where there are very few opioid related regulations or policies in place. Many legislators believe the presence of needle exchange programs would encourage drug use and prevent proper law enforcement.