Atlantic City, N.J., City Council Approves Needle-Exchange Program
The Atlantic City, N.J., City Council on Wednesday approved 7-1 a proposal to implement the state's first needle-exchange program, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Curran, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/17). The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in May said that the proposed program does not have the legal authority to operate. Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash had discussed implementing a needle-exchange program through city-run mobile health clinics, saying that the city's authority to begin such a program was based on a 1999 amendment that exempts government agencies from a section of state law that criminalizes needle and syringe possession. However, state Attorney General Peter Harvey (D) reviewed the law and determined that it allows government agencies to distribute needles and syringes only to people with prescriptions (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/14). The council authorized Atlantic City health officials to distribute syringes to injection drug users to help curb the spread of blood borne illnesses, including HIV and hepatitis C, according to the AP/Inquirer. Cash said that the program -- which will distribute needles through a van that already provides medical services in the community -- could be operational by the fall, the AP/Inquirer reports.
Several supporters of the program say that because one in every 40 people in the city is HIV-positive, there should be a government initiative to prevent injection drug users from sharing or reusing syringes, according to the AP/Inquirer. City Council President Craig Callaway said, "This is the moral, human and correct thing to do." Alison McCray, a syringe-exchange program coordinator for Prevention Point Philadelphia who attended the city council vote, said that since Philadelphia launched its needle-exchange program in 1991, HIV incidence in the city has fallen dramatically, the AP/Inquirer reports. She added, "It's a public health issue that affects the entire population." However, some opponents say that the program "encourag[es] or condon[es] high-risk behavior" among drug users, according to the AP/Inquirer. Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz and some state officials have said they will take action to enforce the state's law prohibiting needle distribution, the AP/Inquirer reports (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/17). New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) has said he supports needle-exchange programs only in hospital-based settings (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/14).