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California Governor Signs Syringe Purchase and Needle Exchange Bills

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California Governor Jerry Brown last week signed 2 harm reduction bills intended to decrease the transmission of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B and C among injection drug users. One bill will permit pharmacies to sell new syringes without a prescription, while the other will enable the state Department of Public Health to authorize new syringe exchange programs in consultation with local public health authorities.

Below is an edited excerpt from a press release issued by the Drug Policy Alliance describing the bills in more detail.

Two Life Saving Bills to Prevent HIV and Hepatitis

  • Syringes Can Be Purchased at Pharmacies Without Prescription and Areas in Need Can Apply for Syringe Access Programs Through CA Dept. of Public Heath
  • Most Important HIV Prevention Policy Change in California in a Decade

California Governor Jerry Brown signed two life-saving bills last night that will help prevent new HIV and hepatitis C transmissions in California. The two bills expand access to sterile syringes, which is by far the most effective way to prevent HIV and hepatitis C among people who use drugs. These bills will save lives and save the California taxpayer money. 

The first bill, SB 41 that was authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) allows people to buy syringes at pharmacies without a prescription. Although some counties had opted-in to a pilot program which proved extremely effective in reducing syringe sharing, most counties did not participate. This expands that successful pilot statewide. When this bill goes into effect, people will be able to go to a pharmacy and take control of protecting themselves against disease from injection drug use. It gives pharmacists the ability to use their professional training to support community health and disease prevention. 

The second bill, AB 604 was introduced by Assembly member Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) to deal with the lack of public health response to high rates of hepatitis, HIV and drug use in rural parts of the State. AB 604 would allow the California Department of Public Health to authorize new syringe exchange programs, after consultation with local public health and law enforcement leadership. Currently some cities and counties in California allow syringe access programs, but most counties still have no access to syringe access, whether from lack of political will or lack of understanding of public health. This bill puts public health experts in charge of the health of the community, instead of waiting for an elected official to do so.

“This is a huge victory for public health and common sense,” said Laura Thomas, Deputy Director of California for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Now all Californians will have the same access to proven, effective HIV and hepatitis C prevention. This gives drug users the tools that they need to protect their health and that of their partners, children, and communities, as well as protecting the California taxpayer from the cost of HIV and hepatitis C infections.”

Senator Yee and Assemblymember Skinner provided strong leadership on this issue. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation continued their commitment to preventing HIV in California through their work on this bill and the California Nurses Association and the California Pharmacists Association also played a key role in the passage of this bill.  

Both bills go into effect January 1, 2012. 

10/14/11

Sources

Drug Policy Alliance. CA Governor Jerry Brown Signs Two Life Saving Bills to Prevent HIV and Hepatitis. Press release. October 10, 2011.

D Marcum. Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills expanding drug user access to syringes. Los Angeles Times. October 11, 2011.

S Smith. California Gov. Brown Signs Needle Access Bills. Drug War Chronicle 704. October 10, 2011.