Sacramento--The California state legislature passed a bill today that will allow adults to purchase up to 30 syringes without a prescription in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. SB 774 by John Vasconcellos of San Jose was overhauled last week to meet objections voiced by Governor Gray Davis in his veto of similar legislation last year. It is uncertain, however, whether the Governor will sign a bill supported by AIDS prevention advocates, leading health associations, drug treatment providers, and gay and lesbian groups, but opposed by some law enforcement groups.
California is one of only five states that currently ban the sale of sterile syringes to adults without a prescription. In order to combat the spread of AIDS, a diverse group of governors nationwide have signed laws authorizing adults to purchase and possess sterile injection equipment, including Republicans George Pataki of New York and Tommy Thompson when he was Governor of Wisconsin (Thompson now serves as Secretary of Health & Human Services in the Bush administration) and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. Most states never banned sale of syringes, though many still have laws that make possession of syringes illegal if used to inject illicit drugs.
Numerous studies have shown that adults with access to clean syringes from pharmacies or needle exchange programs reduces the rate of HIV and other diseases, without contributing to any increase in crime, drug use, or unsafe discard of syringes.
Dustin Corcoran of the California Medical Association, sponsors of the bill, said today, "For physicians, this is a must-do. For the Governor it should be a must-do. It is fiscally conservative and humane."
According to state estimates, syringe sharing among injection drug users causes 1,000 to 1,500 new HIV infections each year in California, and an additional 5,000 cases of the potentially deadly liver disease hepatitis C. Proponents suggest that preventing even half of these infections would avert millions of dollars in future healthcare costs, generally borne by taxpayer-supported health programs.
"This measure, which allows adults to be responsible for protecting their own health and the health of others, is even more critical now, as we see local and state budgets for healthcare and drug treatment slashed," said Vasconcellos. "If the Governor signs SB 774, we will save thousands of lives and millions of dollars at no cost to taxpayers."
"It's been politically easy for him to budget hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS treatment while refusing to acknowledge this major component of the AIDS crisis, said Glenn Backes, Health Policy Director for Drug Policy Alliance. "The Governor is fighting for his political life. We are talking about people out there fighting for their actual lives. Whether they live or die is now in the Governor's hands."
Supporters of the bill include: the California Nurses' Association, Kaiser Permanente, Congress of California Seniors, California Pharmacists' Association, the Sierra Club, gay and lesbian groups, AIDS service organizations, drug treatment providers, major retail chains and unions. An informational website has been established that allows people to send a letter to the governor supporting SB 774, www.HelpStopAIDS.com