New Jersey Should Approve Measure That Would Establish Needle-Exchange Programs To Curb Spread of HIV, Editorial Says
Although about half of all AIDS cases in New Jersey can be "traced" to injection drug users who contracted HIV "by sharing contaminated needles," the state has "stubbornly resist[ed]" allowing the establishment of needle-exchange programs aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, a New York Times editorial says. However, the state Legislature last week "came a step closer to sanity" when the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted to approve a bill (S 494) that would establish needle-exchange programs in six cities and provide $10 million to drug treatment programs in the state (New York Times, 9/26). The bill -- sponsored by state Sen. Nia Gill (D) -- would allow cities or towns to apply to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which would select six cities or towns among the applicants to begin needle-exchange programs. Officials from Atlantic City and Camden have said they are interested in establishing programs. In addition, the legislation would subject the programs to re-evaluation in five years. The bill must be approved by the state Budget and Appropriations Committee in order to go to the full Senate and Assembly for consideration. The committee did not take action on legislation that would have allowed the nonprescription sale of up to 10 syringes (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/21). Some opponents of the measure "falsely assert" that needle-exchange programs "encourage addiction," while others "argue that the state should offer treatment instead" of the programs, the editorial says. However, "[e]ven with greatly expanded treatment programs," IDUs "would need to wait months or even years for help" and would "face almost certain infection without access to clean needles," according to the Times. Needle-exchange programs "have nothing to do with encouraging drug addiction" and "everything to do with slowing the spread of AIDS across the United States and abroad," according to the editorial. It concludes, "If New Jersey continues to bar these plans, the state will pay a rising price in more infections, higher medical costs and lost lives" (New York Times, 9/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.