Atlantic County, N.J., Prosecutor Files Lawsuit To Halt Needle-Exchange Program
Atlantic County, N.J., Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to halt the implementation of the state's first needle-exchange program, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Curran, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/23). The Atlantic City, N.J., City Council last week approved 7-1 a proposal to implement the program, although 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. 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. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/18).
Case Details, Reaction
Blitz in a four-page civil suit filed in Superior Court said that the program would violate state law and requested that Atlantic City be prohibited from moving forward with the program, according to the AP/Newsday. According to the suit, "If the activity is allowed to commence, there will be irreparable harm in that the prosecutor will be forced to arrest persons for unlawfully receiving that which another component of government has given to them." The suit also calls for the city ordinance authorizing the program to be "invalidated," the AP/Newsday reports. Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, said that halting the needle-exchange program would help transmit HIV, according to the AP/Newsday. She added, "This is a public health HIV prevention measure. The fact that [Blitz is] challenging this in a city where one in every 32 African Americans are infected with the virus and holding (the program) up is a tragedy. It's tantamount to helping spread the virus when you step into bar a program from going forward that's proven to reduce the spread of the virus." City Solicitor Beverly Graham-Foy -- who along with City Council Solicitor Daniel Gallagher and the city clerk was served with the lawsuit -- had advised Atlantic City officials not to adopt the ordinance, but she said she would defend the city regardless, the AP/Newsday reports. Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong has scheduled a hearing for July 7 (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/23).