N.J. Assembly Committee Approves Legislation To Authorize State Cities, Towns To Allow Needle Exchanges
The New Jersey Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday approved 9-3 the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act (A 3256), a bill that would authorize New Jersey cities and towns to allow needle-exchange programs to promote wider access to clean needles among injection drug users in an attempt to reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in the state, the Newark Star-Ledger reports (Hester, Newark Star-Ledger, 10/5). Under the measure, which the state Assembly's Health and Human Services Committee approved last month, cities could sponsor local needle-exchange programs that are affiliated with hospitals, clinics or health departments and offer additional health-related services. Currently, New Jersey is one of only two states that bans both nonprescription needle sales and needle-exchange programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/27). In order to gain support for the bill, lawmakers added to the measure $10 million for inpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs. The full state Assembly is expected to vote Thursday on the "controversial" bill, according to the Star-Ledger (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/5). The Assembly also is expected to vote Thursday on a second measure that would allow the nonprescription sales of needles (AP/CBSNewYork.com, 10/4). That bill (A 3257), which the Assembly HHS Committee also approved last month, 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 four states that require a doctor's prescription for needle purchases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/27).
The needle-exchange legislation has "provoked fierce debate" among its supporters and opponents, according to the AP/CBSNewYork.com. While supporters say that needle-exchange programs can help reduce the spread of HIV, opponents say that they "promote illegal activities and drug use," the AP/CBSNewYork.com reports. "Needle-exchange programs have been proven to be an effective deterrent to the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases," Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts (D), who is a sponsor of A 3256, said, adding, "New Jersey is alarmingly behind the curve of the vast majority of other states that have looked at the data and embraced needle-exchange strategies" (AP/CBSNewYork.com, 10/4). However, state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) said that substance abuse treatment -- not needle-exchange programs -- should be the priority. "We are wrong in what we are doing, and in the long term this is going to be recognized as a big mistake and most of us will not be here to accept the blame," he added. Assembly member Frank Blee (R) said that the legislation is not a "partisan issue," adding, "This is an issue that crosses party lines. I will ask colleagues to vote their own conscience" (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/5).