Atlantic City, N.J., Not Allowed To Implement Needle-Exchange Program, County Prosecutor Says
Atlantic City, N.J., does not have the authority to implement the state's first needle-exchange program to combat HIV/AIDS among injection drug users in the area, according to Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz, the Press of Atlantic City reports. Blitz learned about the city's plans after the Press reported that Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash had discussed starting a needle-exchange program at city-run mobile health clinics. Cash said that the city's authority to begin a program was based on a 1999 amendment that exempts government agencies from a section of state law that criminalizes needle and syringe possession. Blitz reviewed the law and determined that it allows government agencies to distribute needles and syringes only to people with prescriptions, according to the Press. Blitz said, "There is no authority for programs to place needles and syringes in the hands of people addicted to heroin. This is a program that has to be considered by the Legislature." Blitz contacted Atlantic City officials by phone and through a letter dated April 30, which was not released. Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford (D) and his administration seem to be "willing to contest the edict, even if it means a court battle," according to the Press. Cash said, "We're still planning on moving forward. There are some legal challenges we need to address" (McAleer, Press of Atlantic City, 5/12).
A report released earlier this year by the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey Drug Policy Project 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 the state, which ranks fifth in HIV prevalence in the United States, according to the report. Although injection drug use has become the primary source of new HIV/AIDS cases in the state, New Jersey is one of only a few remaining states that requires a prescription in order to purchase needles. State Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy and Gov. James McGreevey (D) have called for the legalization of programs that would provide drug users access to clean needles (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/13).