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Opening Statement of Councilmember Grosso

Member, Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
Hearing on several bills including
B22-445, the "Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act of 2017"
October 4, 2018

Thank you Chairperson Allen for convening this hearing and thank you to all of
the witnesses here to testify.

There are a number of important measures under consideration today covering a
range of topics.

I was pleased to co-introduce B22-907, the “Sexual Misconduct Sunshine
Amendment Act of 2018” and B22-843, the “Center for Firearm Violence
Prevention Research Establishment Act of 2018” both of which I hope the Council
can take action on quickly.

During my time on the Council I have been part of efforts to bring greater
transparency to sexual misconduct happening within the government and B22-
907 would be an important next step.

Similarly, I am a firm believer in approaches to violence prevention that do not
rely solely on the police, and B22-843 would be a welcome addition to the other
efforts we have made in that arena.

I am a co-sponsor of B22-877, the “Protecting Immigrants from Extortion
Amendment Act of 2018” and B22-838, the “Elder Abuse Response Team Act of
2018” both of which seek to protect community members who are at a
heightened risk of being targeted for abuse and mistreatment.

And I wrote B22-445, the “Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act of
2017”, along with a separate bill to improve our medical marijuana program, as a
response to the opioid crisis that we face in D.C., much like the rest of the
country.

Last year, we recorded 279 opioid-related deaths, more than triple the number in
2014.

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As a city we have come to understand that the challenges of drug use and
addiction are about public health and not about locking people up, and this bill
would help us further re-orient our approach.

Meanwhile, we continue to face an HIV epidemic, even as our evidence-based
needle exchange programs have dramatically reduced new infections since we
were freed from Congress’ prohibition of these life-saving activities.

This bill takes the next step in those efforts by allowing people to possess drug
paraphernalia for personal use.

This is most important for improving access to clean syringes to prevent the
spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, but there is also new technology that can save
lives in other ways.

Drug testing kits allow people who are using heroin or other opiates to test the
strength of their drugs to avoid overdose, including detecting the presence of
fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, which are largely responsible for the increase
in overdoses.

But these kits are prohibited as drug paraphernalia under current law.

Importantly, last November the Council passed emergency and temporary
legislation to end this particular prohibition, in recognition of the unique public
health emergency we are facing, but it is important for us to make this change
permanent.

The Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act also repeals a congressionally
imposed law from years ago that severely restricts the geographical area in which
our needle exchange programs can operate.

That law, like so much that Congress forces on us, was not based on any scientific
evidence. To the contrary, research shows that the law limits the efficacy of our
harm reduction efforts.

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We need to consider every evidence-based approach that might help us roll back
the tide of overdoses, while also continuing our important progress stopping the
spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

To that end, when I introduced this legislation, I also sent a letter to Department
of Health Director Dr. Nesbitt asking her to examine how D.C. could establish
supervised injection sites, where injection drug users could be monitored to
prevent overdoses and be connected to treatment.

Over a year has passed since that letter and while Dr. Nesbitt did visit a
supervised injection facility in Canada, to my knowledge there has been no
further progress on that front.

While I am grateful to you Chairman Allen for holding this hearing, I must express
my profound disappointment in Mayor Bowser and her agencies for not acting
with more urgency to stem this tide of overdoses as well as the overdoses
resulting from other synthetic drugs.

In light of the failure of the executive, hopefully the Council can take action on
this and stop further D.C. residents from needlessly dying.

Thank you again to everyone who has come out to testify, I look forward to the
conversation.

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