California Assembly Approves Legislation to Allow Purchase of Needles Without a Doctor’s Prescription
The California Assembly on Monday voted 42-24 to pass a bill (SB 1785) that would allow adults to purchase as many as 30 hypodermic needles at licensed pharmacies without a prescription, the AP/Los Angeles Daily News reports (AP/Los Angeles Daily News, 8/27). State law currently requires a prescription to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/20). The bill, which the state Senate approved in May, would require pharmacies to store syringes so that they are available only to authorized personnel and not openly available to customers (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/24). The legislation also would require pharmacists to provide an on-site safe syringe disposal program and information on drug treatment and disease prevention. Forty-four states have similar laws (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/11).
Support and Dissent
State Sen. John Vasconcellos (D), who sponsored the legislation, said that the bill would reduce the number of cases of HIV and other bloodborne diseases spread though shared needles. According to supporters of the bill, needle sharing is linked to 19% of AIDS cases and 50% of hepatitis C cases (Associated Press, 8/26). Fred Dillon, policy director for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, added that a syringe purchased at a pharmacy costs 15 cents, compared to $34,000 for one year of antiretroviral treatment for one HIV-positive patient (SFAF release, 8/27). Opponents of the bill said that the legislation "encourages" illegal drug use. "You are saying to people that 'we can't stop you so we are going to help you (use drugs),'" Assembly member Lynne Leach (R) said (Associated Press, 8/26). According to Dillon, other states that have implemented "syringe access" programs have not experienced an increase in crime or illegal drug use (SFAF release, 8/27). The legislation now returns to the state Senate, which will vote on amendments made to the bill in the Assembly (Associated Press, 8/26).
The California Senate yesterday voted 25-9 to pass a bill (AB 2905) that would require the state to offer HIV tests to prison inmates. The Assembly passed the legislation in May (Associated Press, 8/27). In addition, Gov. Gray Davis (D) yesterday signed a bill (AB 2064) that would allow community-based, not-for-profit organizations with "demonstrated expertise in ... HIV testing services" to train HIV testing counselors. Such training is currently offered only under state supervision through county health departments. Supporters hope that the legislation will reduce the shortage of certified HIV testing counselors in the state and increase the number of counselors who work with higher-risk populations. "This bill paves the way for a whole new approach to HIV testing," Assembly member Gil Cedillo (D), who sponsored the bill, said. He added that the legislation "enhances and supplements our county-based training programs in an effort to reach more Californians with vital HIV testing, prevention and outreach." Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said, "Given that as many as half of all Californians who are HIV-positive do not know their HIV status, AB 2064 should greatly increase access to HIV testing services by adding newly trained counselors in a more timely manner" (AIDS Healthcare Foundation release, 8/27).