By Carrie Abel

A month ago Governor Schwarzenegger signed and passed Assembly Bill 110 (AB110), the Clean Needle Exchange Bill, which traces its roots back to Santa Cruz assemblymember John Laird, who brought the bill to the governor.

The Clean Needle Exchange Bill allows organizations to use their HIV prevention funds to purchase new syringes.

These syringes are exchanged on a one-for-one basis with used needles brought in to clinics or community centers that participate in needle exchange.

“Currently, it is unclear whether local public agencies can use funds from the state that are for HIV prevention and education to support clean needle and syringe exchange programs,” Laird wrote in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “Also, currently local agencies do not have the authority to purchase sterile needles and syringes for use in exchange programs. AB 110 clarifies the issue and authorizes the use of state funds for the purchase of clean needles.”

Clean needle exchange is a method of prevention for the spreading of HIV and Hepatitis C. Clean needles are supplied to all intravenous (IV) injectors, including drug addicts and people who use needles for medical purposes.

“[Needle exchange] provides more access for IV (intravenous) injectors to use clean needles,” said Cecilia Krebs, the program director at Janus Community Clinic.

Kebs fully supports clean needle exchange, and approves of the recent passing of the bill.

“The whole premise for needle exchange is harm reduction,” Krebs explained. “[People are] going to continue with that behavior whether their needles are clean or not.”

Previously, organizations would have to write grants or fundraise to find money for clean needle funds.

The Drop-In Center in downtown Santa Cruz already received syringe funds for this year, so they are not yet benefiting from AB 110.

“[I] wouldn’t doubt that next year [the bill] will be a great help for us,” Roxanne Butterfield, the Drop-In Center’s harm reduction program supervisor, said in regards to syringe funding.

Butterfield explained that it is hard to find funding for clean needles, but that this bill will allow “greater access for syringes.”

Organizations like the Drop-In Center are given a state fund for HIV prevention and education.

Because of AB 110, organizations will be allowed to use these state funds for purchasing clean needles.

However, the amount of funding will not increase, which will “make counties prioritize how they expend prevention funds. One of these choices may be to purchase needles and syringes,” Laird said.

Laird is proud that his bill was finally signed.

AB 110 was the third clean needle exchange bill Laird wrote this year; the first two were unsuccessful.

Since Laird represents Santa Cruz as Assemblymember, AB 110 is sure to make changes in needle exchange in Santa Cruz County.

Butterfield believes the bill will “promote public health” in Santa Cruz.

As Laird put it, “The bill will strengthen and stabilize our needle exchange programs, which are a critical tool in the fight to stop the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.”