SOURCE: AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc.

June 15, 2005 18:05 ET

AIDS Action Committee Applauds State Public Health Committee for Supporting Over-the-Counter Sterile Syringe Access

Says Public Support of Law Enforcement Leaders Remains Important

BOSTON, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- June 15, 2005 -- AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. salutes the Public Health Committee for its thoughtful consideration and prompt action today of voting favorably to support the bill that would legalize the sale of syringes over the counter statewide.

"Middlesex County DA Martha Coakley, Suffolk County DA Dan Conley, and Norfolk County DA William Keating have been fantastic, offering their unique perspective, through public and written testimony about how law enforcement seeks ways to encourage drug users to treat their addiction while aggressively pursuing the drug supplier. They all agree that this bill is smart public health policy that does not increase criminal activity," said AAC Executive Director Rebecca Haag. "While there is much more work to be done, this is the earliest that the bill has been voted out of Committee, leaving time in this legislative session for full, favorable passage," she added.

Injection drug use is a significant factor fueling the AIDS epidemic. Currently, 39 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts have a needle-related infection -- either through their own use or that of their sexual partner. Massachusetts has the ninth highest rate of AIDS spread through injection in the country. Needle use is also the primary mode of transmission for hepatitis C. Massachusetts has approximately 110,000 people living with hepatitis C. In each case, the state experiences a steady advance of new infections each year.

"The need for broad, safe, legal access to clean needles is clear and urgent; permitting over-the-counter sales of needles without a prescription is common sense and cost-effective disease prevention," Haag said.

Massachusetts is one of three states, including Delaware and New Jersey, where it is illegal to sell a needle without a prescription. All New England states except Massachusetts have repealed prescription requirements on sales of needles within the past 10 years. Studies and primary indications from these states have shown that pharmacy sale of syringes decreases needle sharing but does not lead to an increase in drug use or crime. In the first year after Connecticut repealed its prescription requirement in 1992, for example, syringe sales from pharmacies rose 23 percent and reported rates of syringe sharing decreased 40 percent.

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc., (AAC), New England's oldest and largest AIDS organization, is dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS by preventing new infections and optimizing the health of those already infected. AAC provides free confidential services to men and women already living with HIV/AIDS, as well as conducts extensive educational and prevention outreach to those at risk of infection. AAC runs the only statewide AIDS Hotline (1.800.235.2331). AAC also advocates for effective science-based prevention programs.

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