On July 13, the Massachusetts legislature joined 47 other states by allowing access to clean needles without a prescription. In overriding Governor Mitt Romney’s veto, legislators took a strong step toward slowing the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
|Pharmacy Needle Access Bill Becomes Law
“Yesterday, the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of the pharmacy needle access bill. Their vote put health and lives of Massachusetts’ residents front and center,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “Over-the counter access to clean needles does not increase drug use or crime. The experience of 47 other states makes that clear. It does, however, reduce the rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infection. This law will save lives and save health care dollars in Massachusetts.”
Each year, hundreds of Boston residents test positive for HIV. Many of them have been infected through dirty needles or through sex with partners who have used dirty needles. Shared needles are also a major source of hepatitis C infection. In other states and cities over-the-counter access to needles reduces the number of infections substantially.
“Needle availability programs are one of the most effective AIDS prevention strategies,” said John Auerbach, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Mayor Menino has been a staunch supporter of this proven public health strategy for years. With treatment, many drug users can recover from addiction. If they get infected with HIV or hepatitis C while they are using, it makes any recovery much more difficult.”
The Massachusetts needle access law will allow pharmacies to sell hypodermic needles and syringes without a prescription. They will have to distribute information on drug treatment and safe disposal at the same time. No pharmacy that does not wish to will be required to participate.
Over-the-counter sales of needles will be an important addition to needle exchange programs, which reach a limited group of drug users in Boston. Statewide availability of clean needles will help cut infections in towns and cities throughout the Commonwealth.
Where other states have adopted such laws, they have seen no increase in discarded syringes, but local health officials are working improve the safety of used needle disposal. The Boston Public Health Commission has ordered three needle disposal kiosks and is working with community partners to locate them where they will be most useful.