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Bill would make pharmacy syringe sales permanent

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Assembly voted Thursday to make permanent a program that allows pharmacies to sell syringes to drug users as a way to prevent diseases spread by needle-sharing.

AB1743 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, passed on a largely party-line, 43-26 vote and heads to the Senate. The bill also removes a 30-syringe limit, making California the 46th state to allow for bulk syringe sales. Ting's office estimates a 100-syringe box can cost about $30, while a single syringe is less than a dollar.

Ting said his bill is supported by public health data showing that increasing access to clean syringes is beneficial.

Hundreds of California pharmacies started selling syringes as part of a pilot program in 2005. After a California Department of Public Health study found the sales reduced needle sharing and did not increase drug-related crime, legislators expanded the program statewide in 2012. It is set to expire at the end of the year without new legislation.

"This is a very simple but very effective strategy to really stop the spread of these deadly diseases," Ting said.

The public health study was not able to accurately measure how syringe sales changed infection rates for HIV and Hepatitis B and C. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts generally agree that access to clean syringes reduces the spread of such diseases.

California law enforcement groups opposed the bill, saying the studies' findings do not align with their officers' day-to-day experiences.

The bill also comes as states are reporting a rise in heroin use as addicts turn to the drug as a cheaper alternative to prescription opiates.

Ting said his bill helps the fight against addiction by putting drug users in regular contact with public health professionals. Under the program, pharmacists are required to talk to people buying syringes and provide information about drug treatment and disease testing.

Over-the-counter syringe sales complement California's 37 needle exchanges, which provide free syringes.

Amanda Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for Assembly Republicans, said some lawmakers opposed making the program permanent. Instead, they wanted periodic reviews so the law could be reassessed or altered as necessary, she said.

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