Needle Exchange Bills Advance

Press Release August 28, 2005
Media Contact

Glenn Backes (DPA) at 916-202-2538 or Cameron Walderrama (Berg) at 916-319-2001

SACRAMENTO-The State Assembly passed a bill today that would make it easier for cities and counties to authorize needle exchange programs to combat AIDS and other diseases that are spread by dirty syringes shared by drug users. A second bill to allow local governments to use their state HIV/AIDS prevention money to purchase sterile syringes passed out of its final committee last week. An entire Senate vote on this bill is expected soon.

“Needle exchanges save lives and money,” said Assembly Member Patty Berg of Eureka today, “These programs stem the spread of disease and provide a gateway to drug treatment by connecting addicts to health workers.”

Under current law, cities or counties may authorize needle exchange programs pursuant to a declared public health emergency. However, the declarations of emergency must be renewed by vote every 14 to 21 days. The association that represents county health officers sponsored Berg’s bill, AB 547, to somewhat streamline the process. If passed, local governments would have to hold hearings annually before reauthorizing the programs.

A second bill by Assembly Member John Laird of Santa Cruz, AB 1597, would permit local governments to use state HIV prevention funds to purchase syringes or other equipment if the local situation merits it. It authorizes no new funding nor does it mandate counties to buy syringes.

“It’s about flexibility and local control, it’s about saving lives,” said Glenn Backes, health policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, “These bills are a significant step toward giving local governments the power to address the twin epidemics of AIDS and hepatitis C in ways that make sense.” The Drug Policy Alliance and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation sponsored the Laird bill.

The Republican-controlled Congress passed a ban on using federal dollars for needle exchange programs during the Clinton administration. While there is no explicit ban on the use of state funds for syringe exchange, attorneys for the State Department of Health Services believe that without explicit statutory authorization, state funds cannot be used to purchase syringes, even where programs have been legally authorized.

“If a lawmaker claims that he or she supports greater local control of money and decisions, and votes against these bills, then he or she is a hypocrite,” said Backes, “This is life-or-death policy, and it shouldn’t be held hostage by ideologues and do-nothings.”

AB 547 is now headed to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. If AB 1597 passes the Senate without further amendments, it will go directly to the Governor’s desk. The Governor will then have one month to veto or allow either or both bills to become law.

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A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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