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Phil Matier: Expiring Law Sets Up New Needle Giveaway Battle In California

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A volunteer disposes a used syringe of heroin. (Sutanta Aditya/AFP/Getty Images)

A volunteer disposes a used syringe of heroin. (Sutanta Aditya/AFP/Getty Images)

PhilMatier01-370 Phil Matier
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CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s long been a public health debate about whether it’s good policy to make clean needles available to drug addicts and the topic is again up for discussion after San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting introduced a bill this month addressing the issue.

As of now, an addict can purchase 30 needles from a pharmacy and in some places, like San Francisco, they can get an unlimited amount. In fact, last year there were about 2.5 million handed out.

This proposed law has two points.

The first point is the continued idea of the getting drug use out of the courts and into the clinics. The idea being that if addicts don’t share needles, there will be a reduction in the spread of disease.

Ting wants a state-wide program that will continue to allow drug addicts to buy their needles.

Currently it is the law but at the end of the year it will sunset, allowing counties to make a decision over whether they want to have this in their own backyard—which some do not.

So the second point is to keep the program going without giving counties the ability to opt out.

District attorneys, historically, have not been in favor of these programs. They say it’s more than a health issue because of the actions the user might take while high—will they engage in unprotected sex, break into cars, etc?

The other question that arises is: what happens to the needles after they are used? In San Francisco, there are news reports every so often that they show up in parks where children are present. The public becomes upset and then cleanup efforts are made.

It comes down to health versus law enforcement and I don’t think this proposal will go far because it’s not politically healthy to cross district attorney associations in Sacramento.

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