New Jersey Attorney General Says Atlantic City Does Not Have Authority To Start Needle-Exchange Program
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General on Thursday said that Atlantic City does not have the legal authority to implement the state's first needle-exchange program to combat HIV/AIDS among injection drug users in the area, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. Attorney General Peter Harvey's (D) opinion was in line with a statement issued earlier in the week by Atlantic City Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz (AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/14). Blitz learned about the city's plans for the needle-exchange program after the Press of Atlantic City 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. 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 in a letter dated April 30, which was not released (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/13). Chuck Davis, a spokesperson for Harvey, said on Wednesday that the attorney general "believes tha the Atlantic County prosecutor's office provided proper legal guidance on this issue." However, Cash said, "The county prosecutor needs to understand that when you have a public health emergency, there are some things we should be able to do. ... If somebody wants to arrest me, handcuff me, well, I'm trying to save lives. I would hope that this can be settled in a civil way" (Bruder, New York Times, 5/16). Atlantic City officials have said that they may challenge Harvey's opinion in court if necessary, the AP/Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.