Restrictions on Clean Needle Programs
New Report Condemns California AIDS Policy-United States
(New York, September 9, 2003) - Government interference with
programs is thwarting HIV prevention efforts in California,
Watch said in a new report today. State laws and local
preventing drug users from obtaining the sterile syringes they
protect themselves from HIV.
The 61-page report, "Injecting Reason: Human Rights and
HIV Prevention for
Injection Drug Users," documents police stopping,
harassing participants in needle exchange programs established
California counties under state law. Even where needle
are legal, police remain authorized to arrest program
an antiquated law prohibiting the possession of "drug
"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
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
these counties, Human Rights Watch documented cases of drug
syringes with others, reusing contaminated syringes, or buying
needles on the street. Some resort to digging for used
garbage dumpsters, gluing together the parts of old syringes,
needles until they are dulled beyond usefulness. Others risk
possible jail time to make contact with underground needle
"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
sterile syringe programs, including a 2000 survey of needle
research by former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher.
agency that has studied needle exchange, including the Centers
Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, has
clean needle programs dramatically reduce the spread of HIV
C without increasing drug use. Participants in clean needle
receive safer sex information and referrals to addiction
Since 1988, the U.S. government has banned the use of federal
money to fund
needle exchange programs. Supporters of the federal ban
the programs send the wrong message about drug use.
"Governments can send a clear message against drug use
the lives of drug users," Cohen said. "The
only message sent by
restricting clean needle programs is that drug users' lives
Human Rights Watch called on California and other states to
amend their drug
paraphernalia laws to allow the possession of syringes for the
The Human Rights Watch report recommends legalization of
programs and nonprescription pharmacy sales of syringes. It
also calls on
police departments to cease stops and seizures of participants
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/