New Jersey Gov. McGreevey Signs Executive Order Allowing Needle-Exchange Programs in Three Cities
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D) on Tuesday signed an executive order allowing up to three cities in the state to establish needle-exchange programs in an effort to curb the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases among injection drug users, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Delli Santi, AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/26). The order declares a "state of emergency" until Dec. 31, 2005, and authorizes the Department of Health and Senior Services to administer needle-exchange programs in cities that meet specific requirements, according to the Newark Star-Ledger (Livio/Spoto, Newark Star-Ledger, 10/27). By issuing the executive order, the governor has "sidestepped" opponents of the programs who have "bottled up legislation" in the state Senate that would authorize the initiatives, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). Two bills that would provide injection drug users with greater access to clean needles currently are stalled in the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. The New Jersey Assembly passed the two bills earlier this month. The first -- 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. Although McGreevey had promised to sign both bills if they reached his desk before his resignation on Nov. 15, the opposition to the bills in the committee might prevent the full Senate from voting on the bills before then (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/18).
According to Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy, the health department will create regulations and requirements for needle-exchange programs over the next several weeks in order to "fast track" the cities' programs, the Star-Ledger reports (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/27). Currently, Atlantic City and Camden are the only cities eligible to operate needle-exchange programs because they have already passed local legislation allowing the programs, the AP/Newsday reports. Any other city in the state that has an HIV prevalence that exceeds the state average and passes local laws authorizing a needle-exchange program also could apply to establish a program under the executive order (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/26). The health department will begin accepting applications from cities after the guidelines are written. Newark and Jersey City are among the top five cities in the state with the highest proportion of AIDS cases related to injection drug use, the New York Times reports (Cave, New York Times, 10/27). Lacy added that the program might be expanded beyond three cities if it proves successful (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/27).
Not 'Complete, Politically Stable' Solution
According to state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D), a sponsor of the bills stalled in the Senate, McGreevey's order is not a "complete or politically stable solution" because it could be rescinded by a future governor and permits needle-exchange programs to operate only in three cities, according to the Times (New York Times, 10/27). However, some executive orders have remained in effect "for decades," according to the Bergen Record (Gohlke, Bergen Record, 10/26). Because McGreevey's order stays in effect until Dec. 31 of next year, future acting Gov. Richard Codey (D), who will take over after McGreevey steps down, and the state Legislature will decide whether to continue the programs after Dec. 31, 2005, the Inquirer reports. According to Kelly Heck, a spokesperson for Codey, McGreevey did not consult with Codey, who is the current Senate president, before issuing the order. She added that Codey does not "have a position on the order" and "wants to review it closely," according to the Inquirer (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27).
The advocacy group Citizens Against Needle Exchange is "contemplating a legal challenge" to McGreevey's order, according to the group's spokesperson John Tomicki, the AP/Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/26). "Tragically, power politics has now been brought into this arena in an attempt to overcome bipartisan opposition to this legislation," Tomicki said, adding that McGreevey is "making a farce out of the process" (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/27). Tomicki added that he believes New Jersey should increase funding for drug treatment programs instead of legalizing needle-exchange programs (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/27). However, Vitale, a "longtime proponent" of exchange programs, "savored the partial victory," according to the AP/Newsday. "In a very real way, this program will be able to take hold in communities that want it, where lawmakers have supported it and where we can measure its effectiveness," he said, adding that he still "hoped to get the votes to move the bills to the full Senate," the AP/Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/26). Health officials in Camden and Atlantic City also "praised the governor for giving them the chance to carry out programs that they have been clamoring for," according to the Times (New York Times, 10/27).
Codey, Legislature Should 'Let McGreevey's Order Stand,' Editorial Says
By signing the executive order, McGreevey has "done what makes sense for a state where drug use drives the AIDS epidemic," a Newark Star-Ledger editorial says. Therefore, Codey and the state Legislature should "let McGreevey's order stand and concentrate instead on providing more funding to treat and prevent" HIV/AIDS and injection drug use, the Star-Ledger says, concluding that New Jersey is "fighting two deadly epidemics that are feeding on each other. This state needs every weapon it can get to fight both" (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/27).