"I ask you to vote for life," said State Senator John Vasconcellos last week, winning the majority of Senate votes needed to move his bill to the State Assembly. "The sad reality is that people shoot drugs," the veteran Senator from San Jose added, "But they shouldn't have to die of AIDS or hepatitis while we in government have the means to prevent it."
California is one of only six states that still require a prescription in order to purchase a syringe.
On Wednesday, the Senator will be joined by supporters of the Pharmacy Syringe Sale and Disease Prevention Act (SB 1785), which would allow licensed pharmacists to sell syringes to adults in order to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Supporters planning to be on hand include health policy leaders from the California Medical Association and California Pharmacists Association, business leaders represented by the California Retailers Association, and drug policy reform advocates from the Center for Policy Reform.
"It has been proven that allowing licensed pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription will reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis without increasing rates of drug use or crime," said Glenn Backes, an AIDS prevention specialist at the Center for Policy Reform. "We can save thousands of lives and millions of tax payer dollars by simply allowing adults to be responsible for their own care," said Backes.
It is estimated that 19% of the 124,000 AIDS cases in the state and over half of the estimated 600,000 people infected with hepatitis C contracted these deadly diseases because they shared contaminated syringes. Syringes are currently illegal to either purchase or possess in California without a prescription.
"Thirty babies born are born with HIV each year in this state to mothers infected by a dirty needle or by sex with a man who used one," said Julie Ruiz-Sierra, a legislative analyst for the Center, "Evidence suggests that we will reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug using men and women by half by allowing them to buy sterile syringes," said Ruiz.
The advocates, known collectively as "Californians for Responsible Syringe Policy" are taking their case directly to the voters through a media plan that includes a massive TV advertising campaign in several California cities. The ads depict the casualties of the state's current policy, including a woman and her child, both infected with AIDS due to her deceased husband's use of dirty injection equipment. A second ad features a man, clean from drugs for 15 years, but still battling AIDS and hepatitis, as he says, "until the day I die."
The ads will run in heavy rotation in English and Spanish, in areas including Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Sacramento, Grass Valley, Redding, as well as parts of Riverside and Los Angeles Counties. Viewers are encouraged to visit www.HelpStopAIDS.com
, or its Spanish counterpart, www.AyudeAFrenarElSIDA.com
, to find information and to write a letter to their representatives in support of the bill.
Californians for Responsible Syringe Policy started out last year as eight health, pharmacy and AIDS organizations. Support has since broadened to over 40 organizations representing a diversity of professions and groups: drug treatment, veterans, seniors, parents, retailers, labor unions, and the mammoth medical provider Kaiser Permanente. The editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, and Fresno Bee published their support of the bill as well.
Last week the LA Times, stated in a strongly worded editorial that "All but six states nationwide allow syringes to be sold at pharmacies without a prescription. To its discredit California is one of those states." The Orange County Register called the Vasconcellos bill "one of the most constructive approaches to disease control-as well as freedom and personal responsibility-that has been produced in years."
"This campaign is heating up," said Backes, "59% of Californians already support the bill. Once we mobilize voters to voice that support, it should be easy for the Assembly and Governor to do the right thing--to vote for life."
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ATTENTION TELEVISION JOURNALISTS: Beta-SP and VHS copies of commercials available in English and Spanish from the Center for Policy Reform 916-444-3751.
To preview the ads click www.helpstopaids.com/motherandchild.avi.
For more info in English visit www.HelpStopAIDS.com.
Spanish Advisory: Julie Ruiz-Sierra and Jim Gonzalez of the Center for Policy Reform are native speakers. For more info in Spanish visit www.AyudeAFrenarElSIDA.com.