New Jersey Assembly Passes Two Needle-Exchange Bills; Senate Vote Could Come by End of Month
The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed two bills that will provide injection drug users with greater access to clean needles in an attempt to reduce the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in the state, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Both bills passed 43-28, with six abstentions, according to the Star-Ledger (Hester, Newark Star-Ledger, 10/8). The Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act (A 3256) would allow cities to sponsor local needle-exchange programs that are affiliated with hospitals, clinics or health departments and offer additional health-related services. The other bill (A3257) 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 and one of only two states that bans both nonprescription needle sales and needle-exchange programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/5). The state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee is scheduled to consider the bills on Thursday and could come to a floor vote as early as Oct. 25, according to the Star-Ledger. Gov. James McGreevey (D) has promised to sign both bills if they reach his desk before he resigns on Nov. 15 (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/8).
Assembly member Joseph Roberts (D) said that access to clean syringes will reduce the spread of HIV in the state. "New Jersey has the most restrictive laws in the nation in terms of giving its citizens access to clean syringes ... [and] now we have the AIDS and the HIV deaths to prove it," Roberts said (McAlpin, AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/7). Assembly member Loretta Weinberg (D), who chairs the Assembly Health and Human Service Committee, said, "This is one of the most important health care initiatives this state has tackled in decades," adding, "It is time we joined the 48 other states that allow access to clean syringes as a means of fighting the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases" (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/8). However, Assembly member Joe Pennacchio (R) said that the bills would "encourage drug addiction and harm communities," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "Are we enabling the drug addict to commit more crimes?" Pennacchio asked (Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/7). Assembly member Alison Littell McHose (R) said that the bills are "nothing more than state sponsorship of an illegal activity," adding, "This does nothing to help the addict" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/7).