House Passes Bill to Protect Medical Practitioners, First Responders

Mike Seals - April 13, 2021 10:26 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill to protect first responders and other health care workers from unsafe, dirty needles and that will help connect Oklahomans to more recovery services passed the House today.

Senate Bill 511, by Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, and Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, allows medical practitioners, law enforcement, tribes and registered social service entities to administer harm reduction syringe service exchange programs with oversight by the State Department of Health. No state funds will be spent to conduct these programs.

“This legislation will save lives,” Bush said. “Research indicates that individuals participating in this program are five times more likely to go into drug treatment, and it will reduce the number of law enforcement or other responders who will become ill from a dirty needle stick. We have spent two years working to get this measure signed into law, and I’m gratified to get it so close to the finish line.”

Montgomery said, “Creating needle exchange and harm-reduction services is a big first step in providing rapid health care and testing to those the most at risk of infectious disease transmission due to hypodermic needles. While in a perfect world these services wouldn’t be necessary, they are very needed to provide education, testing and referrals for those dealing with substance abuse disorders and medical and mental health services.”

Bush said the pandemic exacerbated the addiction crisis causing an increase of about 50% in the number of deaths from synthetic opioid overdose in Oklahoma since the pandemic began. She also pointed out that the Institute of Medicine estimates that each program may produce up to $50,000 in savings per person preventing the spread of HIV.

SB 511 reduces the likelihood law enforcement will be harmed by a stick from a dirty needle, which is a situation that occurs for one in three law enforcement officers during their careers. Overall, SB 511 is a community-driven, fiscally responsible, and pro-law enforcement piece of legislation, she said.

Bush, Montgomery, Reps. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, John Waldron, D-Tulsa and Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, filed similar legislation last year, House Bill 3028. It stalled because of the abbreviated session due to COVID-19. Bush also filed House Bill 1005 this year, which is the mirror of SB 511.

SB 511 passed the House with a vote of 70-23. It now moves to the governor for his consideration of signing it into law. It has been endorsed by a number of law enforcement and health agencies and organizations.


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