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Health care workers in eleven states have filed class action suits against Becton Dickinson, the world's largest needle maker, saying they have been stuck by BD needles without safety features. In the U.S., as many as 600,000 needlestick accidents occur every year. Workers stuck by contaminated needles can become infected with deadly viruses such HIV and hepatitis C. But while many safety needles have been invented, hospitals and clinics often won't buy them, 60 Minutes Correspondent Mike Wallace reports.

Tom Shaw, who designed a retractable safety syringe, says that he is unable to sell his product to many hospitals. "The monopolistic people who were in control of the buying that goes on in American hospitals went out there and blocked it," Shaw tells Wallace. Shaw says that most hospitals are under long-term purchasing contracts and, in exchange for price discounts, agree to buy most of their needles from the market leader, Becton-Dickinson. The long-term contracts sometimes prevent buyers from even looking at competing products, says Shaw, who filed a lawsuit accusing BD and another big needle maker of conspiring with certain hospitals and their buying agents to harm his business.

This disappoints Karen Daley, a nurse who contracted HIV and hepatitis C after being accidentally stuck by a BD needle without safety features. "I really thought this was about a marketplace and innovation," says Daley, now an advocate for safer needles.

To see what BD's competitors are up against, Wallace attended a seminar on needle safety held by the New Jersey Hospital Association. The seminar was described as educational, but only BD, which has a buying agreement with the NJHA, was allowed to promote their products there. "We do that for our preferred providers," said organizer Rita Pruzan.

BD also makes a number of safety needles, but Daley believes their designs lack innovation. "What [BD does] is take the conventional products…put a sheath over it, or…add a cylinder to cover the needle instead of really looking at the design needs," she says.

Congress recently passed legislation requiring hospitals to use safety needles, but Daley would like to see all unsafe needles done away with. "My fantasy…would be to see manufacturers like BD who really say that they're interested in seeing federal legislation passed to protect health care workers, see them dump this old inventory," she says.

BD executives wouldn't agree to be interviewed, but say hospitals are free to buy any products they wish and that Shaw's accusations were reviewed by the Justice Department, which took no action.

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