Glenn Backes (DPA) at 916-202-2538 or Bill Maxfield (Laird) at 916-319-2027
SACRAMENTO- Assembly Bill 1597, authored by Assemblymember John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), passed the state Senate today by a vote of 22 to 15 and is on its way to Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk.
AB 1597 will allow local governments to use state HIV preventions funds to purchase syringes and other equipment for legally authorized needle exchange programs if it fits their local situation. The bill authorizes no new funding nor does it mandate local governments to buy syringes.
“We know needle exchange programs work, protecting communities and providing significant savings for the taxpayer,” said Assemblymember Laird. “With the Governor’s signature, this bill will preserve access to these critically important public health programs.”
“This bill is just good public policy,” said Glenn Backes, health policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance who sponsored the bill. “It saves lives, saves money, and moves control of resources and decisions to local governments. The governor has a good record on AIDS issues, and consistently voices support for local control.”
In the 1990’s, the U.S. Congress banned the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs. While they made no provision for state funds, lawyers at the California Department of Health Services believe a state law is needed to authorize for such funding.
AB 1597 will provide local governments the necessary tools to fight the twin epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C. Additionally, it will also give authority to county and city governments who are better poised to assess health needs than state and federal bureaucracies.
Since syringes cost less than a dime wholesale, the cost benefits of this bill will be enormous considering that treating one HIV infection averages more than $150,000.
According to statistics from the California Department of Health Services, injection drug use causes nearly 1,000 new HIV infections and 3,000 hepatitis C infections in California annually. These figures do not include infected sexual partners of drug injectors. Where they already exist, needle exchange programs have been shown their effectiveness in slowing the spread of these deadly diseases.
In addition to the Drug Policy Alliance, the bill is supported by several AIDS groups including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Project of Los Angeles. Other organizations supporting the bill include the Health Officers Association of California and the California State Association of Counties.
Once the bill reaches his desk, Governor Schwarzenegger will have 30 days to sign or veto the legislation.