New Jersey Governor To Ask Legislature To Allow Needle-Exchange Programs To Prevent Spread of HIV
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) plans to ask state legislators to amend state law to allow needle-exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV, state Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy said on Tuesday, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. "There is convincing evidence these programs are beneficial and do not cause an increase in intravenous drug use in the communities [where] they operate," Lacy said. McGreevey has said he would like to make needle-exchange programs legal in New Jersey before his resignation on Nov. 15. McGreevey's proposal coincides with an expected ruling on Wednesday from state Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong on whether the Atlantic City Health Department can operate its own needle-exchange program (Livio, Newark Star-Ledger, 9/1). The Atlantic City, N.J., City Council in June approved 7-1 a proposal to implement a program, although the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in May said that the proposed needle-exchange program does not have the legal authority to operate. Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash said 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, but 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. Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz later filed a lawsuit to halt the implementation of the state's first needle-exchange program. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/25).
Lacy met with state Sens. Joseph Vitale (D) and Nia Gill (D) and state Assembly Majority leader Joseph Roberts (D) to discuss the bill, the Star-Ledger reports (Newark Star-Ledger, 9/1). The proposal would allow cities and other jurisdictions to establish and operate needle-exchange programs, but the bill would not allow nonprescription pharmacy sales of syringes, according to the Trenton Times. In addition, needle-exchange programs "should only be located in municipalities that approve them," Roberts said, adding that he hoped to bring the "long overdue" bill to committee in September (Dee, Trenton Times, 9/1). The program also would provide injection drug users with referrals for treatment and counseling, the Associated Press reports (Hennessy, Associated Press, 8/31).
"It's clear the syringe program will reach the greatest number of people and will provide the most meaningful impact in AIDS and HIV infection rates in New Jersey," Roberts said (Trenton Times, 9/1). "It's our intent to have this legislation crafted, moved through the Legislature and to Gov. McGreevey by the end of his tenure," Lacy said (Associated Press, 8/31). "We have been advocating for this for years," Vitale said, adding, "More adults and children are infected with HIV and hepatitis C because we have not reacted in the right way" (Newark Star-Ledger, 9/1). 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). However, state Sen. Ronald Rice (D), a former police officer who does not support the proposal, said that providing needles at no cost to injection drug users would perpetuate drug dealing and would not prevent users from sharing needles. He also said that the location of needle-exchange programs could become a political issue. "If there's going to be an exchange, let's put it in the neighborhood of the legislators supporting it," Rice said, adding, "I guarantee it if you put an exchange program within five blocks of their home, people are going to run them out of town" (Trenton Times, 9/1). Assembly member Kevin O'Toole (R), who also opposes the bill, said, "I would be really surprised if the Senate and Assembly or the moderates in the Democratic Party embraced needle-exchange programs" (Newark Star-Ledger, 9/1).