Proposal for Needle-Exchange Program Gets New Jersey Governor’s Backing for First Time
The New Jersey Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS -- meeting for the first time since the election of Gov. James McGreevey (D), who has given his support to a proposed pilot needle-exchange program to fight the spread of HIV among the state's intravenous drug users -- yesterday outlined a plan to support legislation to decriminalize syringe possession, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. The council, which has recommended a pilot needle-exchange program since 1993, has not had support from any governor until McGreevey, who took office last month. Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) was adamantly opposed to syringe exchange, saying it "condoned illegal drug use and sent a harmful message to children." Now with the support of McGreevey, the council has developed a plan for a pilot project, and Assembly member Reed Gusciora (D), who also serves on the AIDS council, has introduced a bill asking the Department of Health and Senior Services to develop a three-year pilot program that would exchange dirty needles for clean ones and direct clients to drug treatment. "New Jersey is the only state in the Northeast without a needle-exchange program, yet the No. 1 cause of AIDS in this state is IV drugs," Gusciora explained, noting that more than half of the state's 43,000 HIV/AIDS cases are attributable to intravenous drug use. Terry Zealand, the council's acting co-chair, said the panel is "re-energized" by McGreevey's support and added that he hopes the issue "doesn't get bogged down in politics and controversy." However, Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council and a member of the AIDS panel, noted that not all needle-exchange programs have been shown to lower HIV transmission and said he remained in opposition to the pilot project (Livio, Newark Star-Ledger, 2/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.