SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia is taking a new approach to fighting the spread of blood-borne diseases among those who use needles to do drugs.
Governor Brian Kemp has signed a bill legalizing needle exchange to reduce new cases of HIV and hepatitis. The new needle exchange law authorizes the Georgia Department of Health to oversee the program, where intravenous drug users can swap dirty needles for sterile syringes.
Support for the measure was bipartisan. Democrat Craig Gordon, District 162 representative from Savannah, says the bill came through his committee, adding lawmakers do not intend to condone or encourage IV drug use.
“In, in my heart, I adamantly believe we’re not encouraging the spread of drugs that needles are required for,” Gordon said. “We’re just trying to lessen, unfortunately, a lot of the diseases that come along with those habits.”
Georgia has one of the highest rates of new HIV cases in the U.S. When you look at the most recent numbers from Georgia’s Health Department, they show there were 2,698 new HIV cases in the state in 2017.
133 of those cases are in the Coastal Health District, which includes Chatham County. The latest figures reveal there are 2,756 people in the Coastal Health District living with HIV or AIDS.