Gov. McGreevey’s Resignation Could Benefit Efforts To Legalize Needle Exchange in New Jersey
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey's (D) decision to resign in November could be "the best thing that has happened" for supporters of needle-exchange programs aimed at reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users in a state where more than half of reported HIV/AIDS cases can be attributed to needle sharing, the New York Times reports. Before being elected in 2001, McGreevey had promised to begin a pilot program that would allow IDUs to exchange used syringes for clean ones, and needle-exchange proponents viewed McGreevey's election as a "coup of [their] own," the Times reports. But after McGreevey was elected, his "resolve [on the issue] seemed to wane," and needle-exchange program supporters "found themselves joining the growing clamor of those looking to collect on campaign promises," according to the Times. However, since announcing his Nov. 15 resignation, McGreevey has put legalizing needle-exchange programs "on the top of his agenda," sparking a "renewed optimism" among supporters of the programs, the Times reports (Bruder, New York Times, 9/19).
Two Bills To Be Introduced This Week
State Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy at the end of last month announced that McGreevey planned to ask state legislators to amend state law to allow needle-exchange programs in an attempt to legalize state programs before his resignation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/3). Lawmakers this week plan to introduce to the state Assembly two bills that would promote access to clean syringes. The first bill -- known as the Blood Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act -- would authorize cities in New Jersey to sponsor local needle-exchange programs that are affiliated with hospitals, clinics or health departments and offer additional health-related services. The second bill would allow individuals over age 18 to purchase from a pharmacy up to 10 needles without a prescription; currently, New Jersey is one of only five states that require a doctor's prescription for needle purchases and one of only two states that ban both non-prescription needle sales and needle-exchange programs. Lacy is expected to testify in support of both measures, and similar measures are expected to be introduced in the state Senate as soon as next week, according to the Times. Although the bills likely will have "strong support" in the state Assembly, the measures will face a "more daunting challenge" in the state Senate, the Times reports. Although McGreevey has not yet said whether he would sign the measures, "it is safe to say that the bills would not have made it this far without his prodding," the Times reports.
Despite the impending introduction of needle-exchange legislation, some proponents of the program remain "wary," the Times reports. Scott Burris, associate director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Johns Hopkins University, said that having two related syringe access bills instead of one splits the issue. "The fact that there are two [measures] makes me think that someone thinks there might be some political tradeoff to be made," Burris said, adding that he is concerned that some lawmakers might support a compromise in which the needle-exchange bill passes while the pharmacy deregulation bill is dropped (New York Times, 9/19).
Newark Star-Ledger Examines Needle-Exchange Debate
The Newark Star-Ledger on Sunday examined the proposed needle-exchange legislation that would offer some form of legal access to needles. State lawmakers on Monday are expected to introduce two fast-tracked bills, both of which are supported by McGreevey, according to the Star-Ledger. The debate over the bills is expected to be "fierce," and "[l]awmakers will be asked to decide which is more compassionate: giving addicts the tools to shoot up but continuing to skimp on drug treatment programs, or withholding clean needles and letting addicts spread a deadly disease to sexual partners and children," the Star-Ledger reports. Supporters and opponents of the legislation have organized speakers and arguments in anticipation of the debate, according to the Star-Ledger (Livio, Newark Star-Ledger, 9/19). The complete article is available online.