Press Release  | 01/27/2003

Hundreds of Californians to Gather at Capitol to Call for Drug Treatment, Access to Sterile Syringes to Prevent AIDS and Hepatitis, and Better Care for Homeless

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State Senators John Vasconcellos and Wesley Chesbro to Join More than 100 Organizations, Doctors and Patients to Announce Legislation to Be Introduced this Year
Vigil and Speeches NOON

SACRAMENTO--On Wednesday January 29th, hundreds of Californians from around the state will converge on the State Capitol to urge legislators to "Vote for Health." Over 100 organizations representing physicians, nurses, addiction specialists, veterans, patients and families whose lives have been touched by drugs, AIDS, hepatitis, mental illness and homelessness are scheduled to participate.

The first-ever "Public Health Advocacy Day" will focus specifically on: making sterile syringes more readily available to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis; the protection and expansion of drug treatment; and housing and mental health care for the homeless. Related legislation will be introduced this year by Senators Vasconcellos and Chesbro, who will be speaking on Wednesday. Experts and family members will lobby their legislators to support these policies throughout the afternoon.

WHAT: California's First Public Health Advocacy Day

WHEN: Wednesday, January 29

Silent vigil for those lost to preventable illness: Noon-1

Speeches by legislators and advocates: 1-1:30pm

Lobbying by families and experts: 1-4:30pm

WHERE: WEST STEPS of CALIFORNIA STATE CAPITOL, 10TH ST. Between L and N

Dr. Diana Sylvestre, a nationally recognized expert on hepatitis C and addiction, organized Public Health Advocacy Day as a means of improving the state's health policies and reducing the burden of preventable illness. "Sound public health policy makes sense, both medically and fiscally," Sylvestre said. "California's budget crisis threatens major setbacks in the health of the poor, persons of color, and our veterans. We must unite to change this."

Facts about public health in California:

  • Each year 1500 Californians are infected with HIV and 3000 with hepatitis C through sharing syringes. California is one of only six states that bans syringe sale to adults without a prescription. Senator John Vasconcellos will reintroduce a bill this year to repeal this ban. (A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis last year.)
  • Although the state's own analysis suggests that every dollar spent on drug treatment saves seven dollars in crime- and disease-related costs, Governor Davis's proposed budget would cut the State's investment in treatment by 97%, making it a county responsibility. Advocates support legislation, proposed by Senator Wesley Chesbro of Sonoma, requiring parity in private insurance for coverage of substance abuse treatment. Participating groups will also call for state investment in drug treatment as sound public safety and public health policy.
  • Governor Davis is also threatening to end the state's investment in providing drug treatment to first- and second- time nonviolent drug possession offenders via Proposition 36, by moving the financial and administrative responsibilities to the counties. Proponents of Proposition 36, which passed by initiative in 2000 by 61% of the voters, say it would be a mistake to threaten a policy that has already sent over 50,000 Californians to treatment rather than prison, saving approximately 100 million in taxpayer dollars thus far, and reducing the prison population substantially.
  • In recent years Assembly member Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento authored bills that secured 55-65 million dollars annually for programs that outreach to the chronically mentally ill homeless, providing them access to psychiatric and other supportive services. By preventing the repeated jailing of the mentally ill, the programs are saving millions of public safety dollars and freeing the police to fight crime. Mr. Steinberg is proposing that these programs be combined with those created by the voter-approved housing bond to create supportive housing for the acutely or chronically mentally ill.

"Drug treatment and mental health programs are key to preventing death by overdose, AIDS, and hepatitis, and they reduce crime, homelessness and family dissolution as well," said Glenn Backes, Health Policy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We believe that fiscally smart and compassionate legislators can stop the Governor from gutting the State's commitment to drug treatment and other prevention strategies in favor of a bloated prison budget."


Whitney Taylor (cell) 916-439-6495 or at 916-444-3751 or Glenn Backes at (cell) 916-439-6494

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