Assembly Passes Public Health Measure to Reduce the Spread of Blood Borne Diseases

Speaker Carl Heastie and Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried today announced the Assembly has passed legislation to decriminalize the possession and sale of hypodermic needles and syringes to reduce the spread of blood borne diseases, most notably HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and hepatitis C (A.868, Gottfried).

“Decriminalizing the possession and sale of hypodermic needles and syringes is a critical step towards reducing the spread of serious infectious disease,” said Speaker Heastie. “This legislation prioritizes public health and ensures that our laws do not discourage or prohibit access to sterile hypodermic needles and syringes.”

“New York has worked to save lives by providing syringe access, going back to the law I wrote with Senator Velmanette Montgomery allowing non-prescription sale back in 2000. It even had bipartisan support, with Governor Pataki playing a key role,” said Assemblymember Gottfried. “Safe syringe access is a critical tool for reducing HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission and protecting drug user health. But despite our laws, police continue to use technicalities to arrest people, making it hard for people to protect their life and health. I thank Speaker Heastie for his leadership bringing this bill to the floor. I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing it into law.” 

This legislation will promote public health and safety by expanding authority for the possession and sale of hypodermic syringes and needles, allowing pharmacies and healthcare agencies registered under the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP) to sell larger quantities, and eliminating the prohibition on program advertising.

Currently, the state provides funding to organizations that distribute millions of sterile syringes per year as a public health measure, but state law prohibits most individuals from accessing them and related harm reduction services. For example, current law strictly limits the number of syringes an individual may purchase and also prohibits pharmacies from advertising the availability of hypodermic needles and syringes without a prescription. These prohibitions harm public health by discouraging people from accessing services like those offered by ESAP, and ultimately hinder efforts to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS and the transmission of other diseases like hepatitis.