Possession and Disposal

In 2002, the Academy for Educational Development, working under contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commissioned Temple Law School to evaluate the potential impact of syringe possession, syringe exchange and drug possession laws on the willingness of injection drug users to participate in safe community sharps disposal programs. Results are summarized below. Detailed memos analyzing the law of 59 U.S. states and territories can be accessed by clicking on The Law in My State. The information below has been published in a special issue of the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association devoted to syringe access issues.

The Problem

Disposal of potentially infectious medical waste has become an important issue in public health policy. While they pose a low risk to the general public, there is widespread concern about needles discarded in public places like parks. Discarded needles are a source of injury and anxiety to workers in trash disposal, recycling, and related activities. Most of these syringes come from people administering medications for conditions such as diabetes, but many are attributable to injection drug users (IDUs). IDUs have been estimated to perform as many as one billion injections of illicit drugs each year in the United States. IDUs are thus an important part of the syringe disposal picture, and may become more important as efforts proceed promoting the health goal of a new sterile syringe for every drug injection. Unfortunately, IDUs have generally been neglected by community sharps disposal programs. There are only a few systems, most notably syringe exchange programs (SEPs), that provide for safe disposal of syringes from IDUs. The need to improve disposal options for IDUs has been recognized in a few recent state laws authorizing syringe sales to IDUs, but the possible role of existing syringe prescription, drug paraphernalia and drug possession laws in deterring IDU participation in safe disposal schemes has not been thoroughly evaluated. Community disposal programs take many forms, but those implemented to date usually require the participant to dispose of syringes in specially designed or labeled containers placed in regular trash, or to take the needles to a designated community disposal site (including SEPs). In either case, the participating IDU would have to accumulate used needles, many of which would contain drug residues, and dispose of them in a way or in a place that makes concealment difficult. To the extent that possession or use of syringes for drug use, or possession of trace amounts of illegal drug, are crimes, participating in safe disposal creates a legal risk for IDUs.

The Law

This website contains the results of a national survey of drug paraphernalia, syringe possession and drug possession laws intended to identify potential legal barriers to IDU participation in safe syringe disposal. The survey included all fifty states, the District of Columbia and eight territories. Each jurisdiction is the subject of a memorandum describing the law and evaluating its potential effects on disposal behavior. The following tables summarize our findings.

Impact of Drug Paraphernalia Laws on Possession of Used Syringes by IDU

Drug paraphernalia law could be applied to possession of used syringe by IDU


Paraphernalia law exempts at least some possession of used syringes by IDU


No law prohibits paraphernalia possession


Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas
California, Colorado, Delaware
Florida, Georgia, Idaho
Indiana, Iowa
Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana
Mississippi, Missouri
Montana, Nebraska
North Carolina
North Dakota,Nevada, Ohio
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania
South Dakota, Tennessee
Texas, Utah ,Virgin Islands

Connecticut, District of Columbiaa
Hawaiib , Illinois,Maine
Marylanda , Minnesota
New Hampshire,  New Jerseya, New Mexicob
New York, Oregon, Rhode Island
South Carolinad , Washington

Alaskac ,Guam
Marshall Islands ,Massachusetts
Michiganc , Micronesia
Northern Marianas, Palau
Puerto Rico, Samoa
Vermont, Virginia
West Virginia, Wyoming

a SEP clients only

b SEP law exempts clients only; statute deregulating sale and purchase of syringes for disease prevention purposes did not explicitly allow possession, but was clearly intended to

c Ordinances in several communities prohibit paraphernalia possession

d Law does not mention syringes or injection, and is limited to items used for consuming, "marijuana, hashish, hashish oil, or cocaine"

Syringe Prescription Laws

Syringe prescription law criminalizes possession of used syringes by IDU without a prescription


Syringe prescription law authorizes at least some possession of used syringes by IDU


California, Nevadab
Virginiac, Virgin Islands

Connecticut,  Delawarea f, Floridad, Illinoise, Maine, Massachusettsd
Minnesota,  New Jerseyf, New York

a Possession illegal even with a prescription

b Pharmacy board has reportedly taken position that syringe sales to IDUS are legal without prescription to prevent bloodborne disease; prescription requirement is reportedly not a barrier to purchase of syringes by IDUS

c Prescription required for minors only; others must show "written legitimate purposes" for possession, per pharmacy regulation

d Prescription required for minors only

ePrescription required for minors and for purchases over 20.

fSEP clients only


Possession of Trace Amounts of Illegal Drug

Law explicitly or by judicial interpretation criminalizes possession of trace amount


Law could reasonably be interpreted to criminalize possession of trace amount


Law explicitly or by judicial interpretation exempts possession of trace amount


Alaska ,Colorado
District of Columbiab
Georgia , Idaho , Illinois, Indiana,  Kansas , Kentucky
Louisiana , Maine
Marylandb ,
Minnesota , Mississippi
Missouri , Nebraska
New Hampshire , New Jerseyb, New Mexico , New York , North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon
South Carolina,
Texas, Utah, Virginia,
Washington, Wisconsin

Delaware, Florida
Guam , Iowa
Marshall Islands Massachusetts Micronesia , Montana
Northern Marianas Palau Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico, Samoa, South Dakota
Tennessee, Vermont
Virgin Islands , West Virginia , Wyoming

Arizona ,Arkansas
California ,Hawaii
Nevada, Rhode Island

a A federal district court has enjoined enforcement of this law in Bridgeport

b SEP clients exempt

Italic type indicates crime is a felony


Disposal Disincentives

BOTH a syringe and drug possession provision that could deter IDU participation in safe disposal

EITHER a syringe or drug possession provision that could deter IDU participation in safe disposal

NO syringe or drug law barriers to IDU participation in safe disposal


Alabama ,Colorado Delawarea, District of Columbiaa
Florida, Georgia ,Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Marylanda ,Mississippi,
Missouri, Montana, Nebraska,
New Jerseya, North Carolina, North Dakota,
Ohio, Oklahoma,
Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virgin Islands

Alaska ,Arizona, Arkansas
Californiaa ,Connecticuta
Guam, Illinois, Mainea, Marshall Islands,  Massachusettsa,  
Michigana , Micronesia
Minnesotaa, Nevadaa
New Hampshirea, New Mexicoa , New Yorka Northern Marianas Oregona ,Palau
Puerto Rico ,Samoa South Carolina, Vermonta,Washingtona
West Virginia, Wisconsina

Rhode Islanda

a State has authorized SEP, fully or partly deregulated syringes to prevent bloodborne disease, or otherwise acted to enhance syringe access for IDUS


Page updated December 15, 2006