Gov. David Paterson announced today that he signed two bills aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The first will allow patients to agree to HIV testing in a general consent form that stays in effect until it expires or consent is revoked, and it will require health-care providers to offer testing to patients who are between 13 and 64. The second law clarifies that intravenous drug users who are part of a needle-exchange program can’t be prosecuted for having trace amounts of drugs in syringes they are turning in.
“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,” Paterson said in a statement.
On the second bill, which he proposed, he said needle-exchange programs provide drug users with clean syringes and substance-abuse counseling, and numerous studies have found them to be effective in reducing the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. A number of people participating in such programs have been arrested for possession of needles and syringes and have been subject to criminal charges because of residue in the syringes. The new law requires the state Department of Criminal Justice Services to notify law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors about the rights of participants in needle-exchange programs.
“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,” Paterson said.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, said that with the signing of the HIV legislation, “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.”
The syringe access legislation ensures that New York penal law “finally conforms with its rational and compassionate health policy,” Duane said.
Patrick J. McGovern, CEO of Harlem United: Community AIDS Center, said the HIV testing legislation “falls short of a true opt-out approach to HIV screening” but the group believes it will help efforts to make HIV-screening a routine part of health care.
“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,” McGovern said.