Sponsor of New Jersey Legislation That Would Decriminalize Needle Purchase, Possession Withdraws Bill for Revision
New Jersey state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D) on Wednesday withdrew from consideration a bill (S 2794) that he sponsored that would allow the sale and possession of hypodermic needles without a prescription in an effort to curb the spread of HIV, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Vitale withdrew the bill, which was to be heard by the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, after the office of Attorney General Peter Harvey (D) expressed concern about certain provisions in the measure, according to the Star-Ledger. Vitale said that the bill should be "retooled on two fronts" to include an outline of conditions under which a needle-exchange program could operate and requirements calling for anyone who purchases a syringe to receive materials about drug counseling and treatment, the Star-Ledger reports. Vitale said the revised measure also would include "strict rules and guidelines" designed by the state Public Health Council. He added, "There must be a bridge between the sale of syringes and the opportunity for counseling and treatment. They are not clearly defined in the bill and this is too important to rush or leave out." Harvey spokesperson Lee Moore, spokesperson for Harvey, said, "Decriminalizing what is now considered under the law drug paraphernalia raises a number of issues that would be unresolved by this bill, including the issue of proper disposal of dirty needles." As a result of the bill's withdrawal, the measure will not be considered during the last few weeks of the current legislative session, according to the Star-Ledger. However, Vitale said that he would submit a revised version of the measure during the next legislative session (Livio, Newark Star-Ledger, 12/4).
A recent report released by the New Jersey Drug Policy Project-Drug Policy Alliance found that approximately 46% of reported HIV cases in New Jersey are related to injection drug use. Sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs is the leading cause of both HIV and hepatitis C infections in New Jersey, according to the report. New Jersey ranks fifth in HIV prevalence in the United States, and the state has the third-highest pediatric AIDS prevalence and the highest percentage of HIV-positive women in the country, the report says. New Jersey and four other states -- California, Delaware, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania -- require a prescription to buy needles (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/20).