Sacramento-Late Sunday night, in one of his last legislative acts as governor, Gray Davis vetoed a bill that would have allowed adults to purchase up to 30 syringes without a prescription. Proponents of the bill, including the California Medical Association, California Pharmacists' Association and major AIDS service organizations, based their support of the bill on decades of scientific research that found that allowing over-the-counter sale of syringes reduced the rates of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users, their sexual partners, and offspring.
"The veto is deadly," said Glenn Backes, health policy director for Drug Policy Alliance, a national reform organization that supported SB 774 by John Vasconcellos of San Jose. "Davis has never had a plan to deal with the thousands of new HIV and hepatitis C infections every year under his watch. He cut drug treatment, he cut the prevention budgets, and he has twice now vetoed legislation that would have allowed adults to spend their own money to stop the spread of disease," Backes said.
"People should have a right to recover from drug addiction," Backes continued, "Davis legacy on AIDS is death and suffering for thousands of California families."
Backes responded to specific points in the Governor's veto message for SB 774:
Davis: "It departs significantly from the one-for-one exchange of syringes which is standard practice in authorized needle exchanges."
Backes: "If his concern is disposal, SB 774 mandated the nation's most comprehensive system of syringe recovery and disposal--a system that would have helped hundreds of thousands of diabetics and other medical users of syringes, as well as drug users, dispose of their syringes in a responsible manner."
Davis: "It weakens the strong county oversight and accountability requirement that exists for current syringe accessibility programs."
Backes: "SB 774 has a much more comprehensive role for county health departments than does the needle exchange bill that he cobbled together in 1999."
Davis: "It creates a reimbursable State-mandated local program by adding requirements on local health officials."
Backes: "The bill was supported by the association of local health officials. Whatever slight cost there might have been for counties or the state would have been offset by many orders of magnitude. The cost to future healthcare budgets of HIV and hepatitis C cases caused by syringe sharing is an additional 300 million dollars every year."
Does Backes think they will do better with Arnold Schwarzenegger? "I am optimistic," he said, "Nationwide more Republicans have signed this type of legislation than Democrats. It's fiscally conservative to prevent disease."