Calif. Governor Signs OTC Syringe Bill; Vetoes Bill Making Needle-Exchange Participation Easier
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Monday signed a bill (SB 1159) that gives cities and counties the ability to authorize pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes to an adult without a prescription, the AP/Pleasanton Tri-Valley Herald reports (Chorneau, AP/Pleasanton Tri-Valley Herald, 9/21). California law currently requires prescriptions to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/13). Only four other states still require a prescription to purchase syringes, the Los Angeles Times reports. However, Schwarzenegger vetoed another bill (AB 2871) that would have allowed cities and counties that operate needle-exchange programs to keep the programs running without having to renew a declaration of a public health emergency every two to three weeks, according to the Times (Rau/Vogel, Los Angeles Times, 9/21). Assembly member Patty Berg (D), who sponsored the bill, said that the measure would reduce the amount of "red tape" required to operate needle-exchange programs. An estimated 1,500 of new HIV cases reported in the state annually are attributable to injection drug use. Twelve cities and counties in California operate needle-exchange programs, and officials from nine other areas had said that they might start programs if the bill had become law (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/30).
In a written statement about SB 1159, Schwarzenegger said, "My administration supports this measure because it will prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other bloodborne diseases among injection drug users, their sexual partners and their children," adding, "Research conducted on syringe access through pharmacies in other states concluded that access to sterile syringes and needles significantly decreased HIV and HCV, but did not increase drug use or crime rates" (Schwarzenegger release, 9/20). In a statement regarding his veto of AB 2871, Schwarzenegger said that the current law "ensures that local government and local public health officials review the status of the syringe-exchange program when deciding to continue the program" (Schwarzenegger release, 9/20). Schwarzenegger said he would reconsider his position in the future if appropriate local control over the needle-exchange programs could be implemented, the AP/Tri-Valley Herald reports (AP/Pleasanton Tri-Valley Herald, 9/21).
Advocates of needle-exchange programs said that the bill signing was a "significant political victory," the Times reports. Glenn Backes -- health policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based not-for-profit group -- said, "This is the most important AIDS prevention legislation in the history of California" (Los Angeles Times, 9/21). He added that the bill represented "AIDS policy that's been left undone for the last 20 years. The second most common cause of AIDS in the U.S. is the sharing of syringes" (DPA release, 9/20). Jessie Gruttadauria, associate director of government affairs for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, lauded Schwarzengger for signing the measure, saying that the bill is "a pragmatic public health move aimed at reducing the spread of bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases" (AHF release, 9/20). AIDS Project Los Angeles Executive Director Craig Thompson said, "We look forward to working with advocates to apply this sound legislation across the state, and we hope municipalities will see its virtues and enact it broadly" (APLA release, 9/20). However, Michael Kennedy, president of the California Narcotic Officers' Association, said that the group "strongly disagrees" with the governor's approval of the bill. "We feel it effectively decriminalizes the possession of syringes throughout California," Kennedy said, adding that he thought drug users would obtain clean needles under the new law but would continue to share needles, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 9/21). In response to Schwarzenegger's veto of AB 2871, Dana Van Gorder, director of state and local affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said, "We understand the governor's concerns about AB 2871 and are eager to take him up on the commitment contained in his veto message to reconsider the bill in the future. Despite the veto of this bill, we praise Gov. Schwarzenegger for working with public health advocates to enact legislation that will reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis" (SFAF release, 9/20).