TITLE OF BILL:
An act to amend the penal law, in relation to hypodermic syringes
PURPOSE OF BILL:
This bill would add language to the penal law to make it explicit that a
person is not criminally liable for possessing syringes and drug residue
in or on syringes that the person has a right to possess based on his or
her participation in the Public Health Law's Syringe Exchange Program
(SEP) or Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP).
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:
Section 1 of the bill amends Penal Law § 220.03, the misdemeanor offense
of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree,
to provide that a person does not commit this crime when he or she
possesses only a residual amount of a controlled substance that is in or
on a syringe that he or she possesses pursuant to a needle exchange
program set forth in Public Health Law § 3381.
Section 2 of the bill would add similar language to Penal Law §220.45,
to make it explicit that a person does not criminally possess a hypo-
dermic instrument when he or she possesses a hypodermic needle or
syringe pursuant to Public Health Law § 3381.
Section 3 of the bill would require the commissioner of the Division of
Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to ensure that law enforcement agencies
and prosecutors are aware of both an individual's right to possess hypo-
dermic needles or syringes pursuant to the Public Health Law's needle
exchange programs, and the methods available to verify that a person is
participating in such a program.
Section 4 of the bill contains the effective date.
Public Health Law § 3381 establishes programs by which certain persons
may lawfully obtain hypodermic needles and syringes. Under these
programs, it is unlawful for a person to obtain a hypodermic needle or
syringe, unless: (a) such possession is authorized by the Commissioner
of Health; (b) possession is pursuant to a prescription; or (c) the
hypodermic needle or syringe was dispensed by an authorized pharmacy,
health care facility or health care practitioner in accordance with
certain statutory criteria. As part of their participation in ESAP, and
in accordance with Department of Health (DOH) regulations, the author-
ized pharmacies, health care facilities and health care practitioners
must cooperate in the safe disposal of used needles and syringes.
Under Penal Law § 220.03, it is the class A misdemeanor of Criminal
Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree when a person
knowingly and unlawfully possesses a controlled substance. The New York
Court of Appeals has held that unusable "residue," such as that which
may remain in or on a used needle or syringe, is legally sufficient to
support a seventh-degree possession charge. People v. Mizell, 72 N.Y.2d
Penal Law § 220.45 provides that it is the class A misdemeanor of Crimi-
nally Possessing a Hypodermic Instrument when a person knowingly and
unlawfully possesses or sells a hypodermic needle or syringe.
STATEMENT IN SUPPORT:
Numerous state, national and international studies have found that
programs that provide access to clean syringes and to substance abuse
counseling and health care, such as is provided by New York's syringe
exchange programs, are effective in reducing transmission of blood-borne
diseases such as HIV. According to a December 2005 report from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syringe exchange
programs like those contained in Public Health Law § 3381 are an effec-
tive means of preventing new infections of life-threatening blood-borne
diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and that the costs of such
programs are considerably less than the medical costs of treating
persons infected with one of these diseases.
In New York State, published research indicates that the legalization
and expansion of syringe exchange in New York City has been associated
with a very substantial (80%) reduction in HIV incidence among injecting
drug users in the city. Furthermore, a National Institute of Health
report concluded that studies on syringe exchange programs "show a
reduction in risk behaviors as high as 80% in injection drug users, with
estimates of a 30 percent or greater reduction in HIV."
New York State has had syringe exchange programs for at least two
decades, as set forth in Public Health Law § 3381, but participants in
these programs report that they continue to be arrested and charged with
possession of lawfully acquired syringes and residual amounts of
controlled substances present on those syringes. While these charges are
typically dismissed by prosecutors, individuals may have to spend time
in a local jail awaiting dismissal. Participants also report that some-
law enforcement entities and defense attorneys are unfamiliar with the
provisions of the Public Health Law that make such possession of the
Some of the confusion about the legality of an individual's possession
of a needle or syringe may result from the fact that the crimes with
which participants are charged are contained in the Penal Law, but the
statute giving them the lawful right to possess the needles and syringes
are contained in the Public Health Law. To address this issue, this bill
would add language to Penal Law §220.45, the statute defining the crime
of Criminally Possessing a Hypodermic Instrument, to make it clear that
it is not a violation of that provision if a person possesses the needle
or syringe pursuant to the Public Health Law program.
Second, although there is nothing in the Public Health Law that explic-
itly makes it lawful to possess residual amounts of controlled
substances on or in needles or syringes possessed on account of a needle
exchange program, charging an individual with possession of that residue
is inconsistent with the underlying intent and rationale of such a
program - that used needles are to be retained by the participant and
returned and properly disposed of so that any infectious diseases
contained on them cannot be spread to other addicts who might otherwise
share the needle. To address this issue, this bill would add language to
Penal Law § 220.03, the Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in
the Seventh Degree statute, to make it clear that it is not a violation
of the statute when an individual possesses only a residual amount of a
controlled substance on a needle or syringe that he or she is lawfully
entitled to possess under the Public Health Law.
Finally, in order to help prevent further arrests of persons who are
lawfully entitled to possess these needles and syringes and the residual
amounts of drugs present on them, this bill would charge the Commission-
er of DCJS with taking steps necessary to routinely notify law enforce-
ment agencies and prosecutors of the Public Health Law's SEP and the
steps that they can take to verify a particular individual's partic-
ipation in the program.
Taking these steps will enhance use of New York's programs that minimize
disease transmission and maximize access to care and treatment. As now
implemented, intravenous drug users may see little benefit in partic-
ipating in such programs if participants continue to be arrested. Howev-
er, by making these programs function as intended, more intravenous drug
users will have an incentive to join them, which can reduce the inci-
dence of life-threatening infectious diseases that are spread by re-use
and sharing of contaminated needles and syringes and increase the number
of individuals who are provided prevention education and who are
referred to health, supportive and substance use treatment services.
This bill would have no state fiscal-impact.
This bill would become effective 90 days after enactment.
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