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Council May Purchase Needles

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Original Title: Sacramento Council Takes First Step Toward Needle Purchase Program

The Sacramento City Council has given staff the go-ahead to develop a draft ordinance to allow pharmacies to sell needles without a prescription.

The Council also approved staff to study the possibility of a needle exchange program.

Advocates of needle sale or exchange programs say they have been proven to help stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, two infections that can be spread by the use of contaminated needles.

"The accessibility to clean needles, if they're not accessible, people will use dirty needles, they will spread HIV, and Hepatitis C and other infections," said Dr. John McCarthy of Bi-Valley Medical Clinic, Inc.

Julie is a recovering heroin user who agrees addicts will use dirty needles in their need for a fix. "Because it's so hard to get needles. People, including myself, thank God not anymore, would use the same needle over and over and over because they're so hard to get."

However, opponents of needle programs believe they condone drug use and are the wrong approach. Jerry Camous represents the Sacramento Police Officers Association. "We need to get these people in a program and get them off the drugs in the first place, not give them another avenue. Basically we're endorsing their behavior by allowing them to get the needles unregulated," he says.

If there's easier access to needles, Camous says, "There's going to be a proliferation of needles out there, whether they're discarded or not in dirty conditions, who knows? And it's hard: we've had sanitation workers stuck with needles, we've had firefighters stuck with needles, and police officers stuck with needles."

If a needle purchase ordinance is adopted, pharmacies that voluntarily participate would be required to register with the County Health Officer, who would manage the program.

Last year, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors rejected a similar proposal. Sixteen counties in California have instituted needle purchase programs, Yolo, Solano and Yuba among them. Nine cities in the state have passed needle exchange or needle sale ordinances.

Sacramento County has an estimated 15,000 daily intravenous drug users, according to the county's health department.

(This story was provided by News10 KXTV Sacramento.)

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