Groups Working to Increase Awareness of N.Y. Syringe Law
Community health and HIV/AIDS activists are working to make New York's intravenous drug users and pharmacists more aware of a new state law that permits pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes at a time without a prescription, Newsday reports. Since the Expanded Syringe Access Demonstration Program, an initiative designed to decrease the rates of transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne diseases, took effect in January, 2,200 pharmacies have registered with the state Health Department to sell the needles, with the cost of a 10-pack ranging from $1.60 to $4 depending on the type of needle. Seven hundred of those pharmacies are in New York City, where city health department officials estimate that half of all HIV infections result from intravenous drug use. But many drug users are not aware of the program because the law does not allow pharmacies to advertise. Other pharmacies, including those at the city's 11 public hospitals, which would seem "ideal[ly]" situated to supply drug users with clean needles, do not participate in the program at all. The hospital pharmacies also do not accept dirty needles for disposal, though they will provide those who inquire with a list of nearby participating pharmacies. "We did not feel that giving out needles was part of our mission, given that there are so many providers in the program," Dr. Van Dunn, senior vice president of medical and professional affairs for the New York City Health and Hospital Corp., which oversees the public hospitals, said. He added, "This does not mean we are shirking from our responsibilities. But, rather than just providing syringes, we emphasize providing education and comprehensive medical services." Dennis DeLeon, executive director of the Latino Commission on AIDS, called HHC's decision "disappointing" but "consistent with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's opposition to city funding for" needle-exchange programs. HHC officials will reevaluate their participation in the program in three years when a subcommittee of the state AIDS Advisory Council conducts a review of the program.
Will The Program Attract Drug Users?
Philip Glotzer, executive director of the AIDS Center of Queens County, called the program "a wonderful new tool to prevent the transmission of AIDS" that could help draw more people into treatment, but others wonder whether drug users will participate. Drew Kramer, executive director of the Lower East Side Needle Exchange, said he foresees that drug users will visit pharmacies for clean syringes, pointing out that most needle-exchange centers are only open "a few hours" while most pharmacies are open around the clock. But drug users interviewed at an exchange program site said that pharmacies are "too open" and that they prefer to access needle-exchange programs' other services, which include information on rehabilitation, health care and free meals. In the meantime, needle-exchange proponents are working to inform pharmacists about the program. "I found after we educated them, the pharmacists were really receptive. But they need to get the word out," Angel Tompkins of From Our Streets With Dignity, which runs a Harlem-based needle-exchange service, said (Ramirez, Newsday, 7/22). More information about needle-exchange programs is available online from the CDC. For more information on HIV/AIDS in New York, visit State Health Facts Online.