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).
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.