New State Law in New York Permits Over the Counter Sales of Syringes
Beginning Jan. 1, residents of New York state will be able to purchase up to 10 hypodermic needles at a time without a prescription. The Albany Times Union reports that "[a]fter 11 years of resistance," the new law, designed to make uncontaminated needles available to intravenous drug users, will take effect, making New York one of more than 40 states with such a measure. Needles will come with an information packet from the state Health Department that includes warnings about the hazards of drug use, proper methods of needle disposal and treatment options for drug abuse and HIV. Drug stores, health care facilities and professionals who register may dispense needles, but are prohibited by law from advertising them. CVS drug stores, which already sell needles without prescriptions in other states, will be among the carriers. Supporters of the measure encountered steep opposition from legislators who were "frightened that legalizing the sale of syringes might increase drug use or lead them to be seen as condoning it." Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (D), who fought for the measure, saw the issue as one of public health. "If HIV were not transmitted by the sharing of needles, the epidemic would be half the size it is today. We are talking about tens of thousands of lives," he said. Supporters also believe the initiative will save "millions in Medicaid dollars" by reducing the number of HIV infections that lead to costly health care. A similar law in Connecticut cut needle sharing in half and reduced the number of new HIV infections by a third during 1992 and 1993, according to Darryl Ng, director of government relations for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Gottfried credits Gov. George Pataki (R) for pushing the measure through. "The hero is George Pataki, and you don't hear those words out of my mouth often," he said (Swearingen, Albany Times Union, 12/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.