California Gov. Gray Davis Should Sign Bill Legalizing Possession of Up to 30 Syringes, Opinion Piece Says
California Gov. Gray Davis (D) should "act immediately to reduce the risk to all Californians, including our state's brave police officers, by authorizing the pharmacy sale of sterile syringes without a prescription," Norm Stamper, former executive assistant chief of the San Diego Police Department, and Glenn Backes, director of health policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, write in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece. A 2000 University of California-San Diego study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 29.7% of patrol officers had been stuck with a needle while on the job, many of them multiple times (Stamper/Backes, San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/29). 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. State law currently requires a prescription to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin. 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. It 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, 8/28). Needlesticks place officers at risk for HIV and especially hepatitis C. The association between accidental sticks and the liver disease is so strong that California now makes the legal presumption that HCV-positive officers contracted the virus on the job, Stamper and Backes state. Most needlesticks occur during searches of people picked up on suspicion of drug possession, the authors state, noting that drug users will hide the needles on their persons to avoid being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Legalizing the possession of syringes would "remove the incentive" to hide needles and could help many officers avoid being stuck by needles each year, Stamper and Backes state. Stamper and Backes conclude, "We can protect the future health of California police officers ... if Davis signs the legislation currently before him. ... Police officers will be injured less often; and individual syringes will be less likely to carry disease because they will be less likely to be shared" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.