NEEDLE EXCHANGE: Assembly Passes Controversial Bill
In an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS through contaminated needle use, the California Assembly passed a bill by a 43-29 vote yesterday that would "allow drug users to pick up hypodermic needles or trade used supplies for clean ones," the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The bill, which would side-step state law that requires a doctor's prescription to obtain or distribute needles and syringes, is steeped in controversy as its opponents contend that such a law implies government sanctioning of drug use and doesn't aid in reducing infection. "This bill is not about promoting drug use, this bill is about public health," Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D), said, adding, "Drug addiction is a disease and the people who are addicted will do anything to get what they need and jeopardize people's health to do it." Injection drug users are the second largest group in the nation at risk for HIV/AIDS, and represent one-third of the new AIDS cases reported in California annually. However, Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R) opposed the bill, saying, "It sends the wrong message ... The bill says it's OK to use drugs as long as you don't get AIDS." Despite the ban, 17 clean-needle programs currently operate in the state based on county emergency measures, while bills to establish needle exchange programs have been defeated or vetoed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R) since 1992. The current initiative, which would cost $160,000 annually per program, heads to the Senate and is expected to win support from Gov. Gray Davis (D) (Isackson, AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/13). The San Francisco AIDS Foundation praised the Assembly's passage of the measure. Executive Director Pat Christen said, "Given the number of HIV infections directly and indirectly associated with injection drug use and the proven effectiveness of needle exchange programs, California cannot afford to ignore this vital prevention tool" (release, 5/13),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.