Saturday, April 14, 2007

Drug prohibition is stupid aka GIVE ME MY SYRINGES, JERK!

Today I tried to buy 10 syringes without a prescription and was denied. I had left a box at work in a building locked over the weekend, and I needed more. I knew from working in HIV prevention/surveillance about the IL law that allows people over 18 to buy (and possess) up to 20 syringes without a prescription. Although it is limited in it's ability to increase access to clean syringes (cost, needing an ID to prove age for undocumented immigrants, trans people, young people, and poor people, and the issue of pharmacies actually complying), I think it's a great step in the right direction because it supports harm reduction and drug decriminalization.

Moralizing is stupid and an obstacle to accessing dignified healthcare and other services. The U.S. war on drugs is racist, harmful domestically and in other countries (like Colombia), and ineffective. Yes, non-prescribed injectable drugs can be harmful, but dirty needles are harmful too, and forcing someone to use them doesn't help anything! Several studies have shown that pharmacy sales of syringes without a prescription did not increase illegal drug use, and decreased high-risk behaviors for HIV. Sharing syringes is a major source of HIV and Hepatitis C infection:
  • In the U.S., about 50% of all new HIV cases can be traced back to injection drug use (in people that use, their partners, or their children).
  • Sharing syringes is the leading source of Hepatitis C infection.
  • In Illinois, 70% of AIDS cases among women and almost all pediatric AIDS cases are associated with sharing syringes (including sharing of syringes by the mother of the child who is then exposed at birth).
I think that, among many other things, a fundamental disrespect of or apathy towards the lives and well-being of people affected by these issues is at the root of policies refusing to provide access to clean syringes. In addition to moralizing anti-drug sentiments, racism, classism, and sexism play into this. The Chicago Department of Public Health reports that the 2005 HIV diagnosis rate in black females was more than 15 times that of white females.

Despite citing the law and threatening to report her to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago syringe access project, the pharmacist still refused to sell me the syringes. She acknowledged that the law exists but said, "it's at the discretion of the pharmacist." Even when I appealed to the fact that I am diabetic and needed them for insulin, offering to show her my medic alert bracelet and blood test meter, she refused. I think that people that need clean syringes to prevent HIV/Hepatitis C infection when they use syringes for other purposes not sanctioned by laws and/or medicine (illegal drugs, unprescribed hormones) "deserve" them just as much, but my diabetes is seen as more deserving by many people so I tried that appeal.

It was pretty incredible to have someone look at me and say, no, I am going to deny you access to the supplies that you NEED to stay alive and healthy. And have them have the power to make that decision. I guess a lot of people face this kind of cruel denial on a routine basis, from lacking funds or other issues with our fucked up health care system.

(I did get the syringes from another pharmacy without a problem).

Thanks to the diabetes art pool for the image.


Anonymous said...


I found your weblog while searching for information pertaining to pharmacists refusing to sell syringes in my state and I totally agree with you.

I, too, am a type I diabetic and I was refused for the first time in ~15 years yesterday. It's not illegal to sell syringes without a prescription in my state, and after pinning him down, I was finally able to get the pharmacist to admit that it was his decision. He'd been lying to me by telling me it was store policy, which is what they all hide behind around here (I wonder why?)

The reason that I haven't been discriminated against in recent years is because I'm now older and, most importantly, I'm wealthier then I was 15 years ago (i.e. I now live in a better neighborhood.) In the past, I've been late to work and have had to drive dozens of miles to another pharmacy, just because some ignoramus misjudged me for an illegal drug user. This time I had to interrupt my errand run to drive back home -- a good 10 mile trip, mind you -- just to retrieve my insulin supplies as proof. Though I was finally able to convince him that I am, indeed, a diabetic, I made sure that I let him know that I'd never be visiting his particular pharmacy again and later reported the incident to the company headquarters, for which I received an apology (what about my gas money?)

Jonah said...

Yeah, the syringe exchange programs here in Chicago are pretty good. Free syringes. They're a much lower gauge than I use, (28, I think) but if I had an emergency...
They'll also give you a research permission card that allows you to legally carry as many syringes as you want, and I'm guessing you could take that to a pharmacy if needed.