Lawmakers To Reintroduce Bill To Legalize Over-the-Counter Sale of Syringes
Only 25% of counties in the state currently operate needle exchange programs, despite a 1999 law allowing them to do so, and state legislators are planning to reintroduce a bill as early as next month that would allow limited over-the-counter sales of syringes, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 1999, former Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed a law allowing local governments in the state to legalize needle exchanges provided that they declare a state of health emergency every two weeks. But a majority of cities and counties have not created such programs, in part because of a fear that needle exchanges would encourage illicit drug use and raise the crime rate. Now health officials and advocates -- worried that illicit drug users are reusing syringes, raising risk of the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis -- are calling for further reforms. "I hope we don't wait until the cow has left the barn and rates [of HIV and hepatitis] climb back up dramatically among addicts to realize that what we have now isn't working," Ricky Blumenthal, a researcher at RAND, said. The bill, backed by Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) and others, would allow over-the-counter sale of syringes to adults at pharmacies across California. Supporters of the bill say that "giving users direct access to needles is the only way to curtail the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases among users," the Times reports. But opponents say that legalizing syringe sales could "go too far toward condoning" illicit drug use and could increase the number of used syringes left in public places, according to the Times.
Supporters say that they expect the measure to pass the Legislature, as it has on several previous attempts before being vetoed by Davis. A spokesperson for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said that the governor has not yet decided if he would sign the bill. California is one of only five states that does not allow over-the-counter sales of syringes, except with a prescription for insulin or epinephrine (Costello, Los Angeles Times, 1/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.