California: Leaders Split on Needle Access
July 22, 2005
If the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approves a measure at an Aug. 10 hearing, all pharmacies in the county could sell up to 10 needles to adults without a prescription as long as the pharmacies register with the county and follow certain rules.
California law allows such sales if the local government where the pharmacy is located approves the practice.
Local law enforcement officials say easy access to needles could encourage drug use and cause dirty needles to litter the street. Health officials say improved access to clean needles would slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, noting that evidence on that is clear. Not allowing legal access to clean needles without a prescription boosts the public cost of health care for indigent drug users, according to health experts.
"For HIV alone, you are looking at about $20,000 a year, potentially, for each new infection. Hepatitis C, you may be looking at treatment of $50,000 to $100,000," said Dr. Bary Siegel of Sutter Medical Group, who has treated Sacramento HIV patients for 20 years.
To the question of dirty needles littering the ground, health officials note that pharmacies will be required to tell customers how to dispose of needles and to sell or provide means of safe disposal.
Earlier this year, Sheriff Lou Blanas, District Attorney Jan Scully and Chief Probation Officer Verne Speirs sent a letter to health officials -- copied to supervisors -- stating the new state law "provides no benefit to the community or to law enforcement."
07.20.05; Phillip Reese
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.