New Jersey Has ‘Responsibility’ To Allow Needle-Exchange Programs, Opinion Piece Says
New Jersey has "remained stuck in the mid-1980s" as one of only two states that require a prescription to purchase clean syringes, a policy that has a "noticeably negative impact" on state residents' quality of life, Arthur Robinson Williams, who wrote an undergraduate thesis on state policymaking and syringe deregulation while at Princeton University, writes in a Newark Star-Ledger opinion piece (Robinson Williams, Newark Star-Ledger, 8/29). Sharing contaminated needles to inject illicit drugs is the leading cause of both HIV and hepatitis C infections in New Jersey (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/13). A lack of access to clean syringes affects all residents, either because of the death or disability of a family member or friend with a disease contracted through needle sharing, the "unnecessary tax burden" of treating people with preventable illnesses or waiting lists for organ transplants that are "in large part" the result of liver diseases transmitted through the use of "dirty" needles, Robinson Williams says. Although legal, medical and scientific bodies agree that access to clean needles reduces the spread of infectious diseases, and needle-exchange programs have "never been linked" to an increase in drug use, New Jersey "continues to balk" at reforming its policies, Robinson Williams says. The state Legislature "has a responsibility to its constituents" to "explicitly uphold the rights of municipalities" -- such as Atlantic City and Camden, which have passed ordinances to permit needle-exchange programs -- "to safeguard the health of their residents" through over-the-counter syringe sales and needle-exchange programs, Robinson Williams concludes (Robinson Williams, Newark Star-Ledger, 8/29)This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.