Please review the following letter and offer your organizational sign-on:
February XX, 2021
Honorable Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Honorable Speaker Carl Heastie
NYS Capitol Building Albany, NY 12224
Re: S2523/A868 (Rivera/Gottfried)
Dear Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie,
We write to you as organizations and individuals working on the front lines of New York’s overdose crisis to express the urgent need for the passage of the bill to Decriminalize Syringes and Remove the Expanded Syringe Access Program Limit (ESAP).
For nearly thirty years, New York State has recognized that providing access to sterile syringes is an effective public health intervention for preventing and reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C infections, as well as abscesses and endocarditis. To encourage accessibility to sterile syringes, the state has created and expanded syringe exchange programs and established the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP). However, in direct contradiction to this effort, New York still has a draconian law that puts people at risk of being arrested for simply possessing syringes, and limits the number of syringes people can purchase at a pharmacy to ten.
In 2019, at least 549 people were arrested statewide for syringe possession, and 322 people were convicted and sentenced to jail, probation, fines, or other punishments. The state data only notes the top charge, and many people are arrested each year for this charge in order to increase leverage during plea negotiations. Criminalization increases the risk of an overdose significantly, and overdose is the leading cause of death after someone is released from incarceration. The current status of the law undermines public health strategies and adds barriers to engage New Yorkers in linkage to care.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the barriers to sterile syringe access. The Governor’s withholding of funds to syringe exchange programs and their supplier created a statewide syringe shortage forcing people to share and/or reuse their syringes which increases the risk of infection. Our state has seen an increase of hepatitis C infections, HIV clusters, and skyrocketing overdose deaths. It is more critical than ever that people are able to carry syringes without fear of arrest, and be able to access a limitless supply of sterile syringes at pharmacies.
This bill would not only reduce infectious diseases rates, it would reduce discarded syringes in communities, and encourage more people to access syringe service programs that are a critical pathway toward health and recovery for people who use drugs. And, in a moment of fiscal uncertainty, this bill has no cost to the state. Instead, this bill saves lives and the state money from long term healthcare costs.
Syringe decriminalization and ESAP expansion was proposed in the New York State's Blueprint to End the AIDS Epidemic, and listed as a recommendation in the Joint Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addictions, and Overdose Prevention Report.
For these reasons, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the New York State Legislature to pass S2523/A868 to Decriminalize Syringes and expand Access by Removing the Expanded Syringe Access Program Limit (ESAP).
[Organizational Sign-on List]