Contra Costa County, Calif., Supervisors Approve OTC Syringe Sales
Contra Costa County, Calif., supervisors on Tuesday approved a policy allowing over-the-counter sales of syringes to help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users, a move made possible by state legislation passed earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Fulbright, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15). California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in September signed a bill (SB 1159) that gives cities and counties in the state the ability to authorize pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes to an adult without a prescription. California law previously had required prescriptions to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/21). Under the law, the state Department of Health Services is responsible for evaluating local syringe sales and must report back to the state Legislature, according to the Contra Costa Times (Felsenfeld, Contra Costa Times, 12/14). Under the ordinance, pharmacies must register with the county health department in order to sell as many as 10 needles to anyone who is 18 years or older, according to the Chronicle. Pharmacies also must provide educational and referral information and written and verbal counseling to people receiving the needles (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/15). More than 23% of people living with AIDS in Contra Costa County say they contracted HIV through injection drug use, according to a county report, the Times reports. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa County's public health director, said, "We think the ability of people to get sterile needles will significantly decrease the transmission of [HIV] and hepatitis C." Brunner said that OTC syringe sales will work in conjunction with the county's needle-exchange program, adding, "This is just another way to reach people." Some people have opposed OTC sales of syringes, saying it will promote drug use, but county Supervisor John Gioia said that the service is a way to reduce risk, adding, "This is not meant to condone the use of drugs" (Felsenfeld, Contra Costa Times, 12/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.