Fresno County, Calif., Grand Jury Recommends Establishing Needle-Exchange Program
The Fresno County Grand Jury in an interim report released late last month recommended that the California county establish a needle-exchange program to prevent the transmission of bloodborne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, the Fresno Bee reports. Although the county Board of Supervisors has considered needle-exchange programs in previous years, it has not implemented the programs for various reasons, including concerns about liability if a person was stuck by a needle distributed by the county. However, under a state law (AB 136) passed in 1999, California counties and their agents are protected from criminal prosecution for operating needle-exchange programs. The grand jury report said that the supervisors should enact a needle-exchange program using AB 136 and another state law (SB 1159) that allows cities and counties to authorize pharmacies to sell up to 10 sterile syringes at one time to an adult without a prescription (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 7/11). California law requires prescriptions to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin. But under SB 1159 -- which went into effect Jan. 1 -- authorized pharmacies must register with their county health department to sell nonprescription syringes and the state Department of Health Services is responsible for evaluating locally implemented syringe sales and reporting back to the state Legislature. Pharmacies also must provide educational and referral information and written and verbal counseling to people purchasing syringes without a prescription (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11). The grand jury in its report cited a study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Urban Health that found that the county had 173 injection drug users for every 10,000 residents, the highest of any U.S. metropolitan area (Fresno Bee, 7/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.