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Syringe Law

Editor's Note: This article explains how to do something that is illegal. It is placed here for informational purposes only. Do not use this information to break the law. From a practical stand-point alone, this article may be out of date and the information no longer valid. Or it may never have been valid. Regardless, we don't recommend breaking the law, even if you are likely to get away with it.

Using "Right to Life" to Acquire Syringes

As I write this, I am serving six months in a California jail for a misdemeanor: violation of section 4140 of the Business and Professions Code. This code states that it is against the law to possess a hypodermic syringe, although the actual language of this code makes it sound like I was involved in unfair business practices. Six months is the maximum sentence for this "crime" so I received the maximum sentence.

How Does A Guy Get Six Months for a Syringe?

Syringe. You may wonder why I am serving six months for this "crime". There are three primary reasons.

  1. I was not in possession of a hypodermic syringe; I was in possession of 93 hypodermic syringes. In court the DA and the judge made a big deal out of this; they both thought this was a lot of syringes. I wanted to tell them that I could go through thirty in a good night but my attorney suggested that this would not help my case.
  2. They did not like me. The DA said, "Mr. Sodenberg loves the junkie lifestyle." I don't actually know what the "junkie lifestyle" is; it sounds to me like the "gay lifestyle"--a phrase that is literally meaningless but is used to vilify a diverse minority. But I was unrepentant. I had just chosen to leave a drug treatment program for jail. So in a sense, he was right.
  3. They were going to add a "public intoxication" charge. This stems from my showing up in another court high. [Editorial Note: this kind of behavior is a very bad idea. Proper court etiquette is discussed in Heroin User's Handbook.]

Jail Is a Learning Experience

I met a guy in jail who had diabetes. He was also a speed freak and so we naturally worked our conversation toward the subject of syringes. I told him about my syringe woes. I was tearing up my veins because I was reusing syringes so much.

He looked down and said under his breath, "You can buy syringes in California." He explained to me that insulin is a "right to life" drug and that those who need it will die without it. Therefore, you do not need a prescription for insulin or syringes. I checked this out and sure enough, he was right.

Syringe Law Loop-Hole

Section 4145 of the Business and Professions Code does provides a loop-hole. It states that pharmacists, physicians, and veterinarians may provide syringes without a prescription or a permit under certain circumstances. These circumstances are explained in the following quote from the code.

[A] person may, without a prescription or license, obtain hypodermic needles and syringes from a pharmacist or physician for human use in the administration of insulin or adrenaline, or from a pharmacist, veterinarian, or licenseholder, for use on poultry or animals; if all of the following requirements are met:

(a) No needle or syringe shall be furnished to a person who is unknown to the furnisher and unable to properly establish his or her identity.

(b) The furnisher, at the time furnishing occurs, makes a record of the furnishing in the manner required by Section 4146.

Clearly, there are many ways that this law can be used to acquire syringes. Maybe you have a sick chicken. I will outline the procedure here for using insulin.

Using Insulin to Get Syringes

Syringe. You need to get in touch with someone who is taking insulin so that you can get the top off of the box that the insulin ampule comes in. The box top will most likely have a large "N" or "R" written on it. "N" stands for NPH insulin and is a long-acting variety. "R" stands for regular insulin, the kind people inject a couple times a day. There are other kinds of insulin, however. If the box top has something else on it, make sure you find out what it means. Paste this box top to the back of your ID.

Go to a pharmacy and give them your ID, upside down--showing the box top. Tell them what you need. Say something like, "I need a bottle of insulin." And then add, as if you almost forgot, "Oh, and a box of syringes." Most likely they won't mess with you but they may ask any number of questions.

You may be asked how long you have been a diabetic. Diabetes can develop at any time in life, so any answer will do. The main thing is to not stumble on the question. Another important point is that you can't have just been diagnosed with it, because if you had, you would have a prescription--and you don't.

They may ask you how much you are using. Make sure it is more than 15 units because you don't want to get stuck with those half CC syringes. Say something along the lines of 35 units in the morning and 25 units at night.

What are your sugar levels? Normal sugar levels are between 80 and 100. Yours should be higher than this. Something between 140 and 150 will work nicely. Be exact if it is your nature. Normally, you test your sugar level with a "poke test".

What size syringes? My preference is for 27 gauge syringes but you can't ask for these because they are too associated with IV injection. Remember that you do not IV insulin. IM injections are usually done with larger syringes. You can be non-comital on this point or just ask for 28 gauge which is small but still quite common.

If the pharmacist asks you for a prescription, tell him that you don't have one. Have a story ready. A good one is that you are new in town and you don't have a doctor yet. You might also be too poor to pay a doctor to prescribe what you already know you need.

You will most likely be asked for a signature and an address. Make an illegible signature and put down a false address. They will most likely not check and if they do, just tell them that you moved. This might be part of your story anyway.


States that do not control hypodermic syringes have HIV infection rates among IV drug users that are two to three times lower than states that do. In addition, making syringes widely available has no effect on drug use itself. It is extremely short-sighted of policy makers to control these bits of plastic and metal. But until they wake up to this fact, IV drug users will be forced to circumvent the law. It is a matter of life and death.

by Ted Sodenberg © 2000
Edited by Dr. H © 2001
Last Modified: 9 January 2004