(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health is advocating for syringe services programs in Pennsylvania as a way to prevent viral hepatitis.

Syringe services programs provide new needles to people who use them — both for medical reasons and for illegal drugs. The department also advocated for additional prevention and education, expanding services and programs, increasing testing, and continued surveillance of people diagnosed with hepatitis B and C.

“Viral hepatitis is significantly reduced by having access to syringe service programs,” Dr. Wendy Braund, Department of Health deputy secretary of health preparedness and community protection said on June 7. “The success of existing programs is evidence that residents across the state can help stop the spread of viral hepatitis if more syringe service programs are available.”

Syringe services programs are illegal in Pennsylvania. Act 64 of 1972 prohibits syringes used for illegal drugs. While providing a new syringe to an intravenous drug user would prevent the potential spread of hepatitis, it also would provide drug paraphernalia to a user which the act deems illegal.

It would take an act of the state Legislature to allow syringe services programs. A bipartisan bill to allow the programs in the commonwealth was introduced this Legislative session by Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana).

Nationwide, syringe services programs are associated with a reduction in injection-related hepatitis C, a department of health news release said. More than 400 syringe services programs currently are operating in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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“According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals who participate in syringe service programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment,” Braund said. “By combining awareness, compassion and syringe services — we can get more people into recovery and away from a life of addiction and the complications that come with it.”