Pubdate: Fri, 18 Feb 2005
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Marin Independent Journal
Author: Keri Brenner, IJ reporter
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Prescriptions Wouldn't Be Needed To Buy New Ones

The Marin district attorney and county health officials are launching a new 
disease prevention program in which local pharmacies would be allowed to 
sell hypodermic needles over the counter without prescriptions, agency 
leaders announced yesterday.

"We're just trying to provide access to clean syringes in order to prevent 
the spread of diseases among injection drug users," said Sparkie Spaeth, 
Marin County community health and prevention services manager. "It's just 
one more option for people living in Marin to access clean needles."

District Attorney Ed Berberian said his office is partnering with the 
county Department of Health and Human Services in the project, which also 
has the support of the Marin Police Chiefs Association.

"I think we recognize that even though it's illegal to inject yourself with 
controlled substances, we know people are going to do it," said Sheriff Bob 
Doyle. "We may as well give them clean needles."

The project, slated to come before the county Board of Supervisors March 1 
for authorization, seeks to reduce the practice of sharing or re-using 
"dirty" needles among intravenous drug users. The reduction is important 
because sharing used needles can spread such blood-borne diseases as HIV or 
hepatitis among drug users, their sexual partners and children, Spaeth said.

The program would allow adults over 18 years old to purchase up to 10 
hypodermic needles at area pharmacies without a prescription. Spaeth said 
she and other project task force members are still working out the details, 
including how many pharmacies would be registered as program participants.

"We would include, with the needles, an educational handout on HIV testing 
and other services, as well as a sharps container to dispose of the 
needles," Spaeth said. "It's a collaboration between the local pharmacies 
and local public health agencies in order to create a demonstration project."

Current options for obtaining syringes include a doctor's prescription or a 
needle-exchange service, such as that run out of a van operated by the 
Marin AIDS Project. While some drug users are able to take advantage of 
those services, "the van doesn't do it every day," Spaeth said.

"Suppose you're living out in Fairfax," she said. "It's a lot easier to 
just go a local pharmacy."

The Marin program, if authorized, is allowed under Senate Bill 1159, 
adopted last year by the state Legislature. Some area counties, such as 
Contra Costa, have already taken advantage of the legislation and started 
their own programs while others, like Marin, are still in the planning 
phases, Spaeth said.

Task force participants, Spaeth added, include county-run and local HIV 
program staff, drug and alcohol treatment facility officials, local 
pharmacy representatives, San Rafael Fire Department medical waste 
specialists, environmental health experts and others.

Doyle said the county has distributed clean hypodermic needles through 
health department offices for the past 10 years, but under the new program, 
users would not have to wait for scheduled distributions.
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