California Assembly Considers Legislation to Allow Over-the-Counter Needle Sales
The California Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday considered legislation that would allow over-the-counter pharmacy sales of up to 30 hypodermic needles or syringes per person, the Sacramento Bee reports. The bill (SB 1785), proposed by state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D), would allow people over age 18 to buy syringes without a prescription and would make it legal for them to possess up to 30 needles or syringes for personal use. The legislation would also require pharmacists to provide an on-site safe syringe disposal program and information on drug treatment and disease prevention (Padmanabhan, Sacramento Bee, 4/10). Pharmacies would have to store syringes so that they are "available only to authorized personnel and not openly available to customers," and, in a component of the bill opposed by Republicans, pharmacists would no longer have to keep detailed sales records of such products. The bill also would increase the criminal penalty for "improper disposal" of syringes (SB 1785 text). Existing law requires a prescription to purchase syringes, except for those used to administer insulin or other uses "deemed legitimate by the pharmacist," such as self-injectable allergy medications. According to the Bee, state legislators predict that the bill will pass the Senate but will face opposition from moderate Democrats in the state Assembly. The bill is supported by state health professionals, AIDS activists and drugstores but is opposed by the Republican caucus and some police forces (Sacramento Bee, 4/10).
Fresno County Needle Exchange
In related news, a group of doctors and drug treatment advocates have asked the board of supervisors in Fresno County, Calif., to consider starting a needle-exchange program, the Fresno Bee reports. Although federal law prohibits the distribution of drug paraphernalia, a 1999 California law allows needle-exchange programs if a governing body "declares a health emergency." The Bee reports that the board's reaction to the proposal was mixed. Supervisor Judy Case said it would require a "huge epidemic" in the county for her to vote in favor of declaring a health emergency. Supervisor Juan Arambula said, "I intend to look into the science of it and not the politics." The proposal, presented to the supervisors by Dr. Marc Lasher, medical director of the Fresno Free Medical Clinic, was supported by the Fresno-Madera Medical Society and the San Joaquin Valley Exchange Works, which currently operates an illegal needle exchange program in Fresno County (Davis, Fresno Bee, 4/10).