SACRAMENTO--Late this afternoon, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a long overdue measure allowing pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes to adults without a prescription. The legislation will have a major impact on the spread of AIDS in California--syringe-sharing is the second most common cause of HIV/AIDS and the leading cause of hepatitis C in California. Until today, the state was one of only five that still prohibit nonprescription sales of syringes.
"This is the most important AIDS prevention legislation in California history," said Glenn Backes, director of the Alliance's California Capital Office. "Allowing adults to purchase syringes will reduce rates of HIV and other diseases without increasing drug use."
SB 1159 by State Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) will improve access to sterile syringes statewide, reduce the rate of sharing dirty syringes by injection drug users, and cut the overall rates of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other diseases among drug users, their sexual partners and children. Studies suggest that the bill will also help reduce the number of infectious needlestick injuries to police officers, trash haulers and other professions. Similar legislation had been proposed in the past by Senator Vasconcellos, but former Governor Gray Davis vetoed it twice.
In California, over 1000 people are infected with HIV every year and 3000 new hepatitis C infections are reported due to sharing of dirty syringes. These numbers do not account for hundreds of sexually transmitted infections from drug injectors to others, or the cases of infants born to mothers who were infected through syringes or sex with an infected injector.
Numerous studies over two decades unanimously conclude that allowing pharmacies to sell sterile syringes without a prescription will slow the spread of AIDS and hepatitis C without contributing to any increase in drug use, crime or unsafe discarding of syringes.
The legislation requires the Department of Health Services to organize a team of experts, including law enforcement officials and AIDS prevention specialists, in order to evaluate the impact of allowing a limited number of syringes to be sold without a prescription.
Speaking of the evaluation, Backes said, "If we are like other states, California will have less disease, less suffering, and less cost, and absolutely no downside in terms of drug use or other problems."
The California Pharmacists Association, California Retailers Association, Walgreen's, California Medical Association, AIDS Project Los Angeles, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and the American Liver Foundation are among the sponsors of SB 1159.
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