If you want principled consistency, then it’s generally best not to look to the government. Driven by hyper-partisanship and shifting political winds, lawmakers often advocate for policies that appease their voter base, rather than adhering to any discernible philosophical ethos. In fact, one of my colleagues—Stacey McKenna—conducted a study on states’ harm reduction policies, and it revealed a country rife with political inconsistencies. However, there was one notable caveat: Georgia sets itself apart, and in an encouraging way, too.

For those who aren’t familiar with harm reduction, it is a public-health strategy that acknowledges that abstinence-only approaches to risky behavior, like smoking cigarettes or consuming illicit drugs, don’t work for many Americans. With the lack of treatment infrastructure in this country for individuals who struggle to abstain, reduced risk alternatives or opioid overdose antidotes are the next best ways to keep people alive, while also saving taxpayer money.

Within McKenna’s study, she found some interesting threads. Many Republican-dominated states were permissive of tobacco harm reduction tools—like e-cigarettes, which are around 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes—but restricted opioid harm reduction tools. These include improved access to the overdose reversal medication naloxone, drug-checking equipment, syringe service programs that reduce the spread of illness, and so forth.

Democratic-dominated states, on the other hand, often take a different approach. “Our analysis,” McKenna wrote, “revealed that the five [Democratic] states that have the most restrictive e-cigarette laws have embraced some of the nation’s most progressive harm reduction policies for opioids.” These findings may not come as a surprise to policy wonks, but Georgia’s position as an outlier within the study might.

Despite being governed by a Republican trifecta, Georgia has charted a different, more intellectually consistent course. According to the study, the Peach State has moderate tobacco and opioid harm reduction laws, and given how other trifectas operate, this is something to celebrate even though there is always room for improvement. Fortunately, Georgia policymakers have kept both tobacco and opioid harm reduction keenly in their gaze.

The 2024 legislative session just concluded, and during the course of the session, lawmakers mulled several harm reduction measures. While not all of them were successful, sometimes bills need to be considered over the course of a few sessions before making it to the governor’s desk, even well-designed harm reduction legislation.

In order to keep safe, regulated e-cigarettes available, while aiming to reduce the availability of illicit flavored e-cigarettes preferred by youth, Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, introduced an e-cigarette measure that garnered broad, bipartisan support—passing the House by a vote of 163-4—but the Senate tabled the proposal. Had it passed, it would have simply created a state registry of e-cigarette products that Peach State stores can legally sell. While there was ample debate on this legislation, when implemented properly, it is far better than blanket bans on e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine products like other states have pursued.

This bill dominated legislators’ attention for considerable time, but the impacts of opioids were also on full display. Lawmakers made tearful speeches in the legislative Well—sharing stories of loved ones who have since passed due to drug use. Their names are now enshrined in the public record, which guarantees that they aren’t simply a statistic, and the ongoing overdose epidemic—driven in large part by fentanyl—has spurred Georgia lawmakers into further action.

Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, championed a measure to expand access to opioid reversal medications, like naloxone, by permitting college campuses to include them in vending machines. It should be noted that naloxone is safe, not addictive and has no ill-effects on those who aren’t under the influence of opioids. Moreover, it is incredibly effective at quickly reversing opioid overdoses and saving lives. Cooper’s bill sailed through the House unanimously, but ultimately got bogged down in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, sponsored a bipartisan bill to mitigate overdoses in schools. It would require that local schools maintain a supply of naloxone and empower personnel to use it when necessary. The legislation would also free from civil liability school employees acting in good faith who choose to administer or abstain from administering the drugs.

While Cooper and Gaines’ bills didn’t receive full approval, they sparked a debate, demonstrated strong bipartisan support and appear poised to return next year. In the meantime, Dixon’s bill has reached Kemp’s desk, and it is up to him to ratify it. In the end, it is heartening to see Georgia bucking partisan trends and being a maverick among states. Public policies are often subject to partisan pressure, which doesn’t always produce the best results. While principled consistency may be hard to find within many statehouses, thankfully there are some conspicuous examples of it under the Gold Dome.