California Counties Examining New State Law Allowing OTC Syringe Sales
California counties are "still studying" a new state law that took effect on Saturday that allows local governments to approve over-the-counter sales of syringes to help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Feder Ostrov, San Jose Mercury News, 1/4). California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in September 2004 signed the law (SB 1159), which gives cities and counties in the state the ability to authorize pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes at a time to an adult without a prescription. California law previously required prescriptions to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin. Under the new law, the state Department of Health Services is responsible for evaluating local syringe sales and must report back to the state Legislature. Under the ordinance, pharmacies must register with their county health department in order to sell OTC syringes. Pharmacies also must provide educational and referral information and written and verbal counseling to people receiving the needles. Contra Costa County, Calif., is the only county to approve OTC syringe sales thus far (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/15/04).
Santa Clara County public health experts are planning to meet with law enforcement agencies and pharmacists to formulate a sales program to present to the county supervisors, according to county spokesperson Joy Alexiou. In San Mateo County, supervisors plan to reconvene a needle-exchange task force to review the issue of syringe sales. Dr. Scott Morrow, the county's health officer, said that a final recommendation is not expected until the spring, according to the Mercury News. In Santa Cruz County, "prospects for approval look promising" because the county has supported needle-exchange programs in the past, but little progress has been made so far, according to the Mercury News. "We haven't gotten too far," Leslie Goodfriend, health services manager for the county's health agency, said, but Goodfriend added that the county would try to do "anything that can help reduce HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C." Joey Tranchina, executive director of the AIDS Prevention Action Network -- an authorized needle-exchange program in Redwood City, Calif. -- agreed that the new law could help reduce the spread of the diseases. "We welcome all avenues," he said, adding, "This is a battle of survival. Every uptick in HIV increases the chance that one of our kids is going to have to live with it, and so much of it is unnecessary. This is low-hanging fruit. Why not pick it?" (San Jose Mercury News, 1/4).