N.J. Legislature Should Take ‘Clearly Needed’ Steps To Allow Needle-Exchanges To Curb HIV, Opinion Piece Says
The New Jersey Legislature should take "clearly needed" steps to curb the spread of HIV in the state, including approving measures that would allow cities and towns to operate needle-exchange programs, state Sen. Nia Gill (D) writes in a New York Times opinion piece (Gill, New York Times, 10/10). The New Jersey Assembly last week passed two bills that would 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 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 (A 3257) 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. The state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee is scheduled to consider the bills on Thursday, and both measures could come to a floor vote as early as Oct. 25. Gov. James McGreevey (D) has promised to sign both bills if they reach his desk before he resigns on Nov. 15 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8).
"Common sense tells us" that New Jersey will reduce the spread of HIV by enacting needle-exchange programs, Gill writes, adding that the 48 states that allow exchange programs have lower HIV prevalence rates than New Jersey, which has the highest proportion of HIV/AIDS cases related to injection drug use of all the states. Moreover, many studies indicate that exchange programs do not promote injection drug use, meaning that enacting such legislation is "simply a common-sense health care policy" that is the "morally correct action to take," Gill writes. If there were "any other cause [besides HIV/AIDS] of hundreds of deaths of children, thousands of deaths of women and the orphaning of tens of thousands of children," the state Legislature "would act on an emergency basis to reduce that cause," Gill writes, adding, "That is why we must act on this legislation." New Jersey has a "moral obligation" to pass legislation allowing needle-exchange programs, Gill says, concluding, "All that has been lacking is the will and courage of our Legislature to agree that our children are worth saving" (New York Times, 10/10).