AIDS Advocates ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Plans for Pilot Needle-Exchange Program in New Jersey
AIDS advocates and drug policy reformers are "cautiously optimistic" that a proposal by New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) to launch a pilot needle-exchange program will lead to broader legislative reform, the Trenton Times reports. New Jersey currently forbids needle-exchange programs, but McGreevey has proposed the creation of a hospital-based pilot project to examine the effectiveness of such interventions. The Times reports that "battle lines are being drawn" over the proposal, with advocates and opponents of needle exchange questioning whether the state should treat drug use primarily as a public health issue or a law enforcement issue. Several lawmakers, including Assembly member Samuel Thompson (R), say that state-funded needle-exchange programs would only "encourage continued drug use" and would take money away from law enforcement initiatives. In addition, treatment providers are "reluctant" to support needle-exchange initiatives over concerns that such programs will pull funds away from their own allocations. Meanwhile, some needle-exchange advocates say that placing exchange programs in hospitals will not be very effective because many injection drug users are "reluctant to go to public institutions." State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D), an advocate of needle-exchange programs, is working with McGreevey's staff on legislation to establish the pilot program but says he "doesn't expect a sudden transformation of the state's drug policy." John Hullick of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence-New Jersey hopes that treatment programs can be expanded through legislation that would require health plans to cover addiction treatment at the same levels as physical medical care. New Jersey currently ranks fifth-highest in the nation in AIDS cases, third-highest in the country in infant AIDS cases and highest in the country in HIV/AIDS cases among women (Jennings, Trenton Times, 3/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.