Governor Paterson Signs Bills to Promote HIV Testing and Remove Barriers to Needle Exchange and Syringe Access



July 30, 2010

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the enactment of two bills to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by updating New York's HIV testing law to encourage increased testing rates and remove disincentives to participation in needle exchange and syringe access programs.

 

The Governor signed into law S.8227/A.11487, which will allow patients to agree to HIV testing as part of a general signed consent to medical care that remains in effect until it is revoked or expires. The bill will also require health care providers to offer testing to their patients between 13 and 64 years of age, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), and will facilitate authorization for testing in the case of certain occupational exposures to HIV infection.

 

"The enactment of this bill represents a significant step forward in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic," Governor Paterson said. "By making HIV testing a routine part of health care, this legislation will increase HIV testing rates, letting people learn their status and begin treatment at an earlier stage, which can significantly improve the length and quality of life and help reduce transmission of the disease."

 

The bill will also, among other things:

 

• Allow oral consent to an HIV test for a "rapid HIV test," a newer type of testing that is generally available in settings that include hospitals and clinics;

 

• Require, in accordance with the CDC's 2006 recommendations, that an HIV related test be offered to every individual between the ages of 13 and 64 years of age receiving health services in any health setting, including hospitals, emergency rooms, hospital outpatient departments, and primary care settings including physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner and midwife offices;

 

• Permit anonymous testing of the blood of a person who is deceased, comatose or otherwise lacks the ability to consent, if someone such as a health care worker is exposed to the person's blood and no one with the authority to consent to testing can be found in time for the exposed worker to begin medical treatment for HIV.

 

The Governor also signed into law his Program Bill No. 23 (A.8396-A/S.5620-A), which will clarify and enhance existing law regarding the possession of syringes or needles by individuals who participate in needle exchange programs. These public health programs that provide intravenous drug users with access to clean syringes and to substance abuse counseling and health care have operated in New York for many years. Numerous State, national and international studies have found that such programs are very effective in reducing transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

 

A number of participants in such programs have been arrested for possession of needles and syringes which, although permitted under the Public Health Law, is not reflected in the Penal Law where the crimes are defined. In addition, residue in such syringes could subject someone to criminal charges under the Penal Law, which is clearly in conflict with the spirit of the Public Health Law provisions and the objectives of the needle exchange and syringe access programs.

 

"The success of needle exchange and syringe access programs has been repeatedly verified to be instrumental in reducing the transmission of blood-borne diseases," Governor Paterson said. "I proposed this legislation to prevent people from being arrested unnecessarily, thus ensuring that syringe users are not deterred from participating in these important programs."

 

The Governor's Program Bill No. 23 will:

 

• Clarify in the Penal Law that a person does not act unlawfully by possessing a hypodermic needle or syringe if he or she participates in a needle exchange or syringe access program authorized under the Public Health Law;

 

• Provide that possession of a residual amount of a controlled substance on a needle or syringe does not constitute a criminal act if the individual is permitted to possess such needle or syringe under the Public Health Law; and

 

• Require the Division of Criminal Justice Services to periodically notify law enforcement agencies and prosecutors about the right of individuals to possess syringes under a qualifying public health program and how to verify that a person is participating in such a program.

 

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The following statements were provided in support of the Governor signing bills which promote HIV testing and remove barriers to needle exchange and syringe access:

 

Senator Thomas K. Duane said: “I want to commend Governor Paterson for signing this landmark legislation. With the enactment of the HIV testing bill, New York has taken a tremendous step towards ensuring that all its residents have knowledge of their HIV status, know how to prevent new infections, and have access to necessary treatment and care so that we can finally stem the spread of this deadly disease. By signing the syringe access legislation, Governor Paterson has once again put New York at the vanguard of a good public health policy that has proven to reduce transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.  Furthermore, New York's Penal law now finally conforms with its rational and compassionate health policy.”

 

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said: “Many HIV-positive New Yorkers do not know they are infected, so they don’t get treatment. It is critically important for them and for public health that we get more people tested. This law will simplify the process for HIV testing, require the offering of HIV testing in many health care settings, and thus save lives. Throwing an infected syringe into the gutter, out of fear of prosecution for possession of a trace of substance, is bad for public health and safety. Stopping the arrest of drug users for possessing a used needle is a common sense way to protect public health and safety.”

 

State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said: “I applaud Governor Paterson for signing these new laws, which will remove unnecessary barriers to people learning their HIV status and help to reconcile police procedures with public health practice. Increased access to HIV testing is critical because the sooner a person can be tested and receive a diagnosis, the sooner that person can receive life-saving treatment. Additionally, it's important that we encourage drug injectors to utilize our public health programs without fear of arrest. Syringe exchange programs help reduce transmission of HIV and offer access to drug treatment and other services to those most in need. We encourage injectors to return all used syringes so they are not disposed of in a way that would put others at risk.”

 

Bich Ha Pham, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research of The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) said: “FPWA greatly appreciates the leadership of Governor Paterson, Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Duane and their staff for their diligent efforts in bringing together this proposal that highlights the common goal and objectives of diverse groups.”

 

James Greenwald MD, President of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, said: “The New York State Academy of Family Physicians commends Governor David Paterson for signing legislation today to streamline HIV testing in New York and to protect health care providers and emergency responders by allowing anonymous testing of patients for HIV in cases of potential occupational exposure. The Academy is the largest organization in the State representing primary care physicians with over 4,300 member physicians, students and residents in family medicine. This critically important legislation (S.8227/A.11487) will benefit the patients we serve and the health of the public overall. The Academy praises the Governor and Members of the State Legislature for enactment of this law that will save and improve the lives of countless New Yorkers.”

 

Evan Goldstein, Policy Associate for the Drug Policy Alliance, said: “Governor Paterson and leaders in Albany should be commended for supporting syringe access programs. This public health legislation, following last year’s Rockefeller Drug Law reforms, is helping New York move from a State with some of the worst drug laws to a State that can be a leader for the rest of the country.”

 

Jill Reeves, a leader in Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL), said: “Governor Paterson is moving New York in the right direction by promoting health-based approaches to drug use in our communities. By reconciling a long-standing inconsistency between our Penal Code and Public Health Law, this law will prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C by improving access to sterile syringes, while making our communities safer by encouraging proper disposal of used syringes. People who take personal responsibility for their health and participate in public health syringe access programs should be commended for trying to improve their lives, not treated like criminals.”

 

Patrick J. McGovern, CEO of Harlem United: Community AIDS Center, said: “While this legislation falls short of a true opt-out approach to HIV screening in New York, we are confident that it will advance our efforts to make HIV screening a routine part of care, most particularly with a required offer of an HIV-related test in all health care settings. We strongly believe that the required offering is a necessary corrective to 25 years of segregated HIV testing - segregated in the sense that a legacy of counseling and testing regulations make HIV testing someone else's responsibility in health care. The required offer of an HIV test in all primary care settings foretells an end to the current practice of segregated and stigmatized HIV testing.”

 

C. Virginia Fields, President and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, said: “We applaud the members of the New York State Legislature for the passage of S8227/A11487. By requiring the offer of an HIV test, this bill represents a giant step forward in eliminating longstanding barriers to testing and ensuring that more New Yorkers, especially African-Americans and other communities of color, will know their status and gain access to early treatment and care, if needed.”

 

Guillermo Chacon, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS, said: “This bill is possibly one of the most important and relevant actions that can be taken to dramatically decrease HIV in our communities across New York State. Testing is an important universal, routine screening tool. Risk-based HIV testing –testing that focuses on known risky behaviors – is insufficient. Routine testing has been demonstrated to improve health outcomes, reduce new infections and be an efficient use of resources.”

 

Marjorie J. Hill Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of GMHC, said: “The expanded offering of testing in New York State is a crucial measure, both for people who do not know their status and for those at risk for HIV. Being offered an HIV test anytime you go to the doctor or medical center will decrease HIV-related stigma. This ease of access will also dramatically increase the number of people getting tested. Ultimately, the bill will allow more New Yorkers to take charge of their health and access the treatment and care they need.”