June 29, 2010

Assembly Clarifies Syringe Exchange Law

Legislation Will Help Reduce the Spread of HIV and Hepatitis C

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried today announced the passage of legislation (A.8396) to clarify New York's syringe access law and thereby promote public health and safety.

"Encouraging proper disposal of used syringes will help protect public health and safety," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "Research suggests that New York's legalization and expansion of the syringe exchange program has lead to a significant reduction in the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Assembly Majority is committed to removing the disincentive to participating in the current Syringe Exchange Program."

"Throwing an infected syringe into the gutter, out of fear of prosecution for possession of a microscopic trace of substance, is not an acceptable method of protecting public health," said Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the sponsor of the bill. "This bill addresses the serious risks improper syringe disposal poses to the population and creates measures that may be taken to prevent possible exposure. I would like to thank Governor Paterson, Senator Thomas K. Duane, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, and the Department of Health for understanding this public health risk and working closely together to protect our families."

New York State has had syringe exchange programs for more than a decade, but people who lawfully surrender them are sometimes arrested and charged with possession of small, residual amounts of controlled substances found in the syringes. Some law enforcement agencies and defense attorneys are still unfamiliar with the limited provisions of the Public Health Law that make such possession of a syringe lawful, when it is possessed as part of a recognized needle exchange program.

The measure passed today would: