Pubdate: Fri, 14 May 1999
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Orange County Register
Author: Noah Isackson-The Associated Press


Health: Gov.Wilson vetoed similar bills three times,but Gray Davis may sign
it this time.

Sacramento-Drug users could receive clean hypodermic needles from
state-approved programs under a bill backed Thursday by the Assembly.

The measure is intended to reduce the sharing of contaminated needles, one
way that the AIDS virus, hepatitis and other infectious diseases are
transmitted. Critics say such programs don't work and give the impression
that the government approves of drug use.

"This bill is not about promoting drug use, this bill is about public
health," said Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, D-San Rafael, the measure's
sponsor. "Drug addiction is a disease, and the people who are addicted will
do anything to get what they need and jeopardize people's health to do it."

Under California law, it is illegal to distribute or have hypodermic needles
or syringes without a doctor's prescription. Mazzoni's bill, approved 43-29,
would allow local governments to establish programs that distribute the
supplies without such permission.

Despite the current ban, about 17 clean-needle programs currently flaunt the
law, operating via permission of emergency measure enacted by counties,
Mazzoni said.

Nationally, injection-drug users are the second-largest group at risk of
becoming infected with HIV and developing AIDS. Those infected commonly pass
on the disease to their partners and children, Mazzoni said.

In California, nearly one-third of new AIDS cases reported last year were
associated with injection-drug use, according to the San Francisco AIDS

Assemblyman Tony Stricklan, R-Thousand Oaks, was joined by other Republicans
who argued that the bill would do more damage than good.

"It sends the wrong message to the youth of California," Strickland said.
"The bill says it's OK to use drugs as long as you don't get AIDS."

Bills to authorize needle-exchange programs have been proposed and defeated
or vetoed repeatedly since 1992. Former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed similar
bills three times.

Mazzoni told reporters that Gov. Gray Davis has given her indications that
he may support her bill.

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