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Schwarzenegger urged to sign sterile syringe bill

To prevent spread of HIV, hepatitis C First Posted 13:48:00 09/13/2010

SACRAMENTO, California, United States?Actor and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the cousin of California?s First Lady Maria Shriver and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, has called on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Los Angeles) to sign legislation to allow pharmacies to sell sterile syringes to adults.

Senate Bill 1029, authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), is supported by doctors, pharmacists, and AIDS prevention advocates as an effort to stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

?I trust the governor will respect the scientific consensus that supports legal syringe access,? said Kennedy Lawford. ?Those of us strong enough to recover from addiction deserve a chance to get better?all the way better. And the taxpaying public deserves smart prevention policy. Governor, please sign SB 1029.?

Kennedy Lawford battled drug and alcohol addiction for much of his early life. In 2000, after being in recovery for 15 years, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C as result of his drug use.

?There is absolutely no controversy among public health researchers and scientists on syringe access,? said Kennedy Lawford. ?Over 200 studies from around the world concur that allowing adults to legally access and possess syringes suppresses the spread of these diseases without contributing to any increase in drug use, crime, or syringe litter.?

?It is time for California to catch up with the rest of the world,? he continued. ?In politics, there are always those who propose half-measures, like allowing legal syringe access to be a decision of local government. That makes no sense?communicable diseases don't respect the county line, and Californians deserve equal access to a proven disease prevention strategy, no matter where they live. Furthermore, all state taxpayers pay for the healthcare of a low-income person, no matter where he or she lives.?

California is one of only three states that still prohibit pharmacists from selling a syringe without a prescription. Most states amended their laws in light of overwhelming evidence that criminalizing access to sterile syringes led drug users to share used ones, and that sharing syringes spread HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases that can live in a used syringe.

?This is an effective public health measure which is proven to reduce health care costs to taxpayers,? said Yee in a news release.

?Access to sterile syringes is a vital component of a comprehensive strategy to combat HIV and hepatitis. This approach has been evaluated extensively throughout the world and has been found to significantly reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis without contributing to any increase in drug use, drug injection, crime, or unsafe discard of syringes. It is a moral and fiscal imperative that the governor signs this bill into law.?

Schwarzenegger signed legislation in 2004 to create a five-year pilot program to evaluate the safety and efficacy of allowing adults to purchase and possess a limited number of syringes for personal use. Under the pilot program pharmacies in Los Angeles County, the Bay Area, and some other parts of the state have been allowed to sell syringes.

Yee?s SB 1029 would extend the sunset as well as allow all pharmacists throughout the state with the discretion to sell sterile syringes without a prescription.

?Nothing works better and costs less in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C than this policy,? said Glenn Backes, MSW, MPH, Public Policy Consultant for Drug Policy Alliance.

Sharing of used syringes is the most common cause of new hepatitis C infections in California and the second most common cause of HIV infections. The state Department of Public Health estimates that approximately 3,000 California residents contract hepatitis C through syringe sharing every year and another 750 cases of HIV are caused by syringe sharing.

These diseases are costly and potentially deadly. Hospitalizations for hepatitis B and hepatitis C cost the state $2 billion in 2007, according to a report by the California Research Bureau. The lifetime cost of treating hepatitis C is approximately $100,000, unless a liver transplant is required, and then the cost exceeds $300,000 per surgery. The lifetime cost of treating HIV/AIDS is now estimated to exceed $600,000 per patient.

By comparison, a syringe costs about ten to fifteen cents retail. The bill requires no appropriation of state funds, because it allows adults to buy syringes at their own expense.

In 2008, the World Health Organization concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus showed improved syringe access reduced rates of HIV and hepatitis without contributing to drug use, crime or unsafe discard of syringes.

Among the numerous studies cited was one published in the American Journal of Public Health from 2001 that compared US cities that allowed pharmacists to sell syringes to adults without a prescription and those that did not. The study found that the rate of HIV among drug injectors was twice as high in cities that forbid sale without a prescription than those cities that allowed pharmacists greater flexibility to provide syringes.

SB 1029 is supported by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS Project Los Angeles, American Civil Liberties Union, California Hepatitis Alliance, California Nurses Association, California Psychiatric Association, California Retailers Association, County Alcohol & Drug Program Administrators, Drug Policy Alliance Network, California Medical Association, California Pharmacists Association, City and County of San Francisco, Health Officers Association of California, and Equality California, among others.

The governor has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill.

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