National Groups Seek Better Access to Sterile Syringes

Call Issued for State Leaders in Medicine, 
Public Health and Pharmacy to Mobilize

CHICAGO, Oct. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Almost one-third of all AIDS cases and one half of hepatitis C cases in the U.S. are either directly or indirectly linked to injection drug use. Because access to sterile syringes is limited, transmission of blood-borne infections to injection drug users, their partners and their children continues to be an enormous public health concern.

In a joint letter issued last week, the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) urged state leaders in medicine, pharmacy and public health to appropriately coordinate their efforts to address access to sterile syringes as a means of preventing further transmission of blood-borne diseases. The leaders were also asked to consider the availability of substance abuse treatment and options for safe disposal of syringes.

In addition, the AMA, APhA, ASTHO, and NASTAD encouraged state-level action to reduce the legal and regulatory barriers that currently restrict access to sterile syringes in nearly every state.

"The AMA strongly urges state medical associations to join this important effort," said Thomas Reardon, MD, president of the AMA. "Any action that will help reduce diseases like AIDS, and hepatitis C -- infections that pose a huge threat to public health -- is clearly an action that physicians should squarely support."

In 1997, the United States Public Health Service issued a recommendation that drug users who continue to inject use a new sterile syringe for each injection -- and that the most reliable source from which to obtain the syringes was a pharmacist. The AMA, APhA, ASTHO and NASTAD all have policies supporting that recommendation and seeking the modifications of state laws and pharmacy regulations that make it difficult for injection drug users -- who continue to inject -- to follow medical and public health advice that sterile syringes only be used once.

"Pharmacists can play a major role in opening up access to sterile syringes to help prevent the spread of blood-borne pathogens," said John A. Gans, executive vice president of the APhA. "We encourage state pharmacy associations and boards of pharmacy to join with their colleague organizations to eliminate state level restrictions on the sale of sterile syringes. Their participation in this effort is key."

"Obviously, the best way to prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens is to avoid injecting illicit substances," said George Hardy, MD, executive director of ASTHO. "However, to protect those people who continue to inject, the most effective strategy -- from a public health standpoint -- is to remove the legal barriers that criminalize the distribution and/or possession of syringes, and provide the appropriate counseling and treatment."

"The positive impact of increasing access to sterile syringes on disease prevention has already been demonstrated on both the state and local levels, as well as in numerous foreign countries," said Julie Scofield, executive director of NASTAD. "With an estimated one new HIV infection occurring every 15 minutes in the U.S., it's time for society to move beyond hypothetical concerns to tackle the immediate public health need to make sterile syringes available."

SOURCE American Medical Association 

CO: American Medical Association; American Pharmaceutical Association; Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; National Association of Boards of Pharmacy; National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors