Assembly backs permanently allowing over-the-counter sale of syringes

SACRAMENTO--The Assembly approved a measure Thursday that would permanently extend a provision allowing pharmacists to sell syringes without a prescription.

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the bill's author, said expanding access to sterile needles is "the best way to stop the spread of some very deadly diseases."

Public health experts say the use of shared needles among intravenous drug users contributes to the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Current state law that allows pharmacists to dispense up to 30 needles at a time without a prescription is set to expire at the end of this year.

The bill, AB 1743, would permanently allow pharmacists to sell syringes over the counter. The bill would also remove the cap on the number of needles that can be sold.

Some law enforcement groups, such as the California Narcotics Officers Assn. and the California Police Chiefs Assn., oppose the measure. They argue there is no justification for extending the law without a sunset date or for lifting the cap on the number of needles that can be sold.

John Lovell, lobbyist for the police chiefs' and narcotics officers' groups, said the organizations had concerns with how used needles would be disposed of. He said described the lack of a sunset date in the bill an "overreach."

"The improper disposal of needles that could be infected is a serious issue and meritorious of continued oversight," Lovell said.

But Ting, citing a study from the state Department of Public Health, said California's current experience with selling needles without a prescription did not lead to any negative effects.

"The data is absolutely conclusive," Ting said. "We did not see increased drug use. We did not see more disposal of needles around the pharmacies."

The bill passed on a 45-28 vote, with Republicans and some conservative Democrats opposing. It now moves to the Senate.