Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jan 2005
Source: Lompoc Record (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Pulitzer Central Coast Newspapers
Author: Erin Carlyle, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


In an expansion of a clean needle program for intravenous drug users,
Santa Barbara County pharmacies could soon be selling hypodermic
needles without a prescription to anyone who requests them.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the
possibility Feb. 22, after a new state law effective this year gave
counties and cities the option. Currently pharmacists may sell
hypodermic needles only to patients who have prescriptions, such as

The state's new program - known as the Disease Prevention
Demonstration Project - is designed to work in concert with needle
exchange programs that aim to reduce the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C,
and other blood-borne diseases.

The Pacific Pride Foundation, a nonprofit group with offices in Santa
Maria and Santa Barbara, already has a free syringe-exchange program
for drug users. Heroin addicts, meth users, steroid injectors, or
transgender persons who inject hormones get one needle for each that
they return, said Janet Stanley, chief executive officer of Pacific

Every two weeks, county officials declare a state of emergency
authorizing the nonprofit's needle exchange program. Adding the state
program could help the overall health of county residents, according
to officials.

"This is considered to be a complementary strategy to reducing
blood-borne disease through needle exchange programs," said Michele
Mickiewicz, deputy director of county Public Health. "It is the Public
Health Department's view that we would be interested in seeing the
board support this."

Stanley said her program would remain in place even if the board
approves the pharmacy program, because many users may not be
comfortable asking for syringes in a pharmacy, where other customers
may see.

"People feel hesitant asking for birth control methods, let alone
saying 'I'm here for a needle exchange program,'" Stanley said.

But Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor,
Agriculture and Business, questions whether maintaining the local
emergency that authorizes the Pacific Pride program would be necessary
when addicts can purchase needles at the pharmacy.

A critic of the needle exchange program, Caldwell has argued that it
may actually encourage drug use. Medical professionals say there is no
evidence to support that idea, and contend that exchange programs
reduce the spread of disease.

No government funding or local tax dollars are used in Pacific Pride's
program. However, implementing the new state law locally would cost
the county, Mickiewicz said. Officials are working to calculate those
costs, she said.

If the board decides to implement the new program, pharmacies could
choose to participate. A maximum of 10 syringes could be sold at a
time, but there are no limits on how often a client could return to
buy more, Mickiewicz said.

The law requires participating pharmacists to register with the
county. Pharmacists would also have to provide written information or
verbal counseling on how to access drug treatment, where to go for
testing and treatment for HIV or Hepatitis C, and how to safely
dispose of needles. Participating pharmacies would have to provide
either a receptacle for the used needles or sell personal receptacles
that could be taken home, Mickiewicz said.

It is the health department's responsibility to provide the written
materials for pharmacists to hand out or orally discuss, Mickiewicz

The new rules are slated to expire at the end of 2010, and that year
the state Department of Health would submit a report on the
effectiveness in reducing the spread of blood-borne disease.
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