Los Angeles, CA – Last night, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the Pharmacy Access Bill (AB 2077) co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Health Officers Association of California and authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). The measure extends the statutory sunset date of the pilot for another five years, protecting pharmacist’s discretion to furnish sterile syringes without a prescription and allowing adult possession of syringes for personal use as part of the state’s comprehensive approach to preventing the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

“By signing this bill into law, Governor Newsom has rightly shown he understands the necessity of providing people who use drugs with sterile syringes as a means of preventing infectious diseases,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “At a time when we are already trying to stem the blow of COVID-19 and an overdose crisis which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, ensuring we protect the health of our most at-risk communities with this cost-effective measure and not further overwhelm the public health system is paramount.”

The measure, which was previously extended in 2014, further requires pharmacists to inform consumers on safe disposal of syringes and provide them with access to disposal containers along with educating them on HIV and hepatitis prevention, treatment and testing. Because the syringes will be sold to consumers through participating pharmacies, it comes at no cost to the state, while saving the state from significant healthcare costs of having to treat these potentially deadly diseases.

“The Governor’s signature assures safe, legal access to sterile syringes at pharmacies will continue to prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 2077. “More than 200 studies from around the world have consistently shown improved syringe access reduces the extent of needle sharing and disease transmission – all without increasing the rates of drug use, drug injection or crime.”

Syringe sharing is the most common cause of hepatitis C transmission and the second most common cause of HIV and hepatitis B transmission in the United States. These preventable infections are devastating to individuals and families and put cost burdens on taxpayer-supported healthcare and health insurance. For example, the US Centers for Disease Control reports that the lifetime cost to treat a single case of HIV is $380,000 in 2010 dollars and the cost to cure a patient of hepatitis C is approximately $64,500.

“The San Francisco AIDS Foundation thanks the Governor and the legislature for continuing to support common sense policies to prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis C,” said Laura Thomas, Director of Harm Reduction Policy, San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “This is one more effort to reduce stigma and give people who use drugs the tools they need to keep themselves and their communities safer and healthier. We thank Assemblymember Ting for his continued leadership on this issue.”

Research from the California Department of Public Health has concluded there has been no increase in drug use or crime in the state associated with the sale of syringes without a prescription and found that the rate of syringe sharing was lower in places where this policy was in effect than where it was not. This research has been echoed by over 200 studies from the United States and abroad that concur improved syringe access reduces the rate of syringe sharing and disease transmission, without increasing rates of drug use, drug injection or crime. To date, no study has found otherwise

“California’s physician health officers thank Governor Newsom for enacting this foundational disease protection measure,” said Kat DeBurgh, MPH, Executive Director, Health Officers Association of California. “Preventing communicable disease is more important now than ever.” 

Allowing adults to purchase sterile syringes without a prescription at community pharmacies is a sound public health strategy endorsed by virtually every major health organization, including the American Medical Association, Institute of Medicine, American Pharmacist Association, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors.

For more information on syringe access, visit drugpolicy.org/issues/syringe-access.