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Editorials and Commentary

California: Syringes for Sale

April 4, 2002

"Dirty needles kill. It's a fact that has driven one of the most successful public health initiatives in recent decades -- needle exchange. By turning in used needles for clean ones, drug addicts avoid getting infected with HIV and hepatitis C. Needle exchange programs have been legal in San Francisco since 1993 and also operate in dozens of other California cities. Thousands of lives have been saved.

"Unfortunately, not all addicts choose to take advantage of needle exchange. To help reach these holdouts, all but six states nationwide allow syringes to be sold at pharmacies without a prescription.

"To its discredit, California is one of those six states. The cost for this shortsighted policy is high. Sharing contaminated syringes remains a cause of infection in 19 percent of California AIDS cases and 60 percent of hepatitis C cases. Drug users pay with their lives, the state's taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars to treat the sick and dying, and police officers are at risk of getting stuck by dirty needles when they make arrests.

"Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose) has introduced a bill in the state Legislature to end the ban. The Pharmacy Syringe Sale and Disease Prevention Act, SB1785, would allow pharmacies to sell up to 30 needles to people ages 18 and older.

"A wide coalition has lined up behind the bill, from medical associations to health care associations to lobbies for the elderly. Their arguments are persuasive -- the legalization of syringe sales will save lives and reduce public health care expenditure. It will not encourage or condone drug use. It simply recognizes that drug abuse is a reality and seeks to minimize its damage.

"SB1785 is sound, humane public policy. It should become the law of California."

Back to other CDC news for April 4, 2002

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Adapted from:
San Francisco Chronicle

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: California