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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

      

Lift Restrictions on Clean Needle Programs
New Report Condemns California AIDS Policy-United States


(New York, September 9, 2003) - Government interference with sterile syringe
programs is thwarting HIV prevention efforts in California, Human Rights
Watch said in a new report today. State laws and local enforcement are
preventing drug users from obtaining the sterile syringes they need to
protect themselves from HIV.

The 61-page report, "Injecting Reason: Human Rights and HIV Prevention for
Injection Drug Users," documents police stopping, arresting, and
harassing participants in needle exchange programs established by some
California counties under state law.  Even where needle exchange programs
are legal, police remain authorized to arrest program participants under
an antiquated law prohibiting the possession of "drug paraphernalia."

"Restricting these sterile syringe programs amounts to a death sentence for
injection drug users," said Jonathan Cohen, researcher with Human Rights
Watch and author of the report. "This is a high price to pay for the
disease of addiction."

Over a quarter of new AIDS cases in the United States can be traced to
infected syringes.  Sharing syringes is also a major risk factor in the
spread of hepatitis B and C.  California is home to nearly one eighth of
reported AIDS cases in the United States.

Many California counties still ban needle exchange programs outright.  In
these counties, Human Rights Watch documented cases of drug users sharing
syringes with others, reusing contaminated syringes, or buying used
needles on the street.  Some resort to digging for used needles in
garbage dumpsters, gluing together the parts of old syringes, or sharing
needles until they are dulled beyond usefulness. Others risk arrest and
possible jail time to make contact with underground needle exchange
services.

 



"Needle exchange is an accepted form of health care, and the government is
preventing people from getting to it," Cohen said. "No one should have to
choose between becoming HIV-positive and going to jail."

The Human Rights Watch report cites evidence establishing the benefits of
sterile syringe programs, including a 2000 survey of needle exchange
research by former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher.  Every government
agency that has studied needle exchange, including the Centers for
Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, has concluded that
clean needle programs dramatically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis
C without increasing drug use. Participants in clean needle programs also
receive safer sex information and referrals to addiction treatment.

Since 1988, the U.S. government has banned the use of federal money to fund
needle exchange programs.  Supporters of the federal ban maintain that
the programs send the wrong message about drug use.

"Governments can send a clear message against drug use without sacrificing
the lives of drug users," Cohen said.  "The only message sent by
restricting clean needle programs is that drug users' lives aren't worth
saving."

Human Rights Watch called on California and other states to amend their drug
paraphernalia laws to allow the possession of syringes for the purpose of
disease prevention.

 



The Human Rights Watch report recommends legalization of needle exchange
programs and nonprescription pharmacy sales of syringes. It also calls on
police departments to cease stops and seizures of participants in clean
needle programs, a practice courts have recently prohibited in
Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

"Injecting Reason: Human Rights and HIV Prevention for Injection Drug Users"
is available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa0903/