Needle exchange

A man brings used needles to the Baltimore City Health Department Needle Exchange Program, which is warning users of a dangerous strain of heroin. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / February 3, 2014)

The General Assembly passed legislation Monday night allowing Baltimore to distribute an unlimited number of syringes to drug addicts in Baltimore in the hope that access to clean needles will help curb the spread of AIDS.

The 40-7 Senate vote sends the measure to Gov. Martin O'Malley. The bill is a top legislative priority of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who wants to end the requirement that needles be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.

City officials maintain that the provision — in place since the needle exchange started in 1994 — limits the effectiveness of the program, which is designed to prevent addicts from sharing used needles and transmitting the HIV virus and hepatitis.

The city officials point to the experience in cities such as New York and Chicago, where there is no such limit and where a higher percentage of addicts use clean needles than in Baltimore.