New Jersey Legislature Approves Measure That Would Establish Needle-Exchange Programs in Six Cities
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate on Monday voted 49-27 and 23-16, respectively, to approve a measure (S 494) that would establish needle-exchange programs in six cities and provide $10 million to drug treatment programs in the state, the Newark Star-Ledger reports (Livio, Newark Star-Ledger, 12/12). According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, 14% of new HIV/AIDS cases in the state in 2005 were attributed to injection drug use. Needle-exchange programs in the U.S. are not federally funded and are opposed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Raquel Jeffers, acting addiction services director for the state, said the $10 million drug treatment program would enhance current services -- including providing "motivational counseling" for up to 1,500 IDUs, opening four sites for outpatient illicit drug addiction treatment, licensing 76 long-term residential treatment beds over four years and maintaining "sober houses" to encourage illicit drug-free living for up to 60 people. Officials from Atlantic City and Camden have said they are interested in establishing a needle-exchange program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/23). Officials in Paterson also have expressed an interest in the program, according to Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/12). New Jersey has the highest new HIV infection rate among women in the U.S. and ranks fifth in HIV prevalence in the country. In addition, it is the only state that does not allow injection drug users access to clean needles through community-based needle-exchange programs or with a prescription. The state health commissioner under the legislation must report to the governor and Legislature on whether the needle-exchange program is effective. In addition, people who participate in and run the program would be required to carry identification cards that protect them from being arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia (DeFalco, AP/Cherry Hill Courier-Post, 12/12). Atlantic City, which recently passed an ordinance to allow a pilot needle-exchange program in the city, might have an operational program in three to six months, Ron Cash, Atlantic City health officer, said (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/12). The state Assembly on Monday also passed 50-28 a bill (A 2839) that would allow pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes at a time to an adult over age 18 without a prescription. The Senate has not yet considered the bill (AP/Cherry Hill Courier-Post, 12/12).
Fred Jacobs, the state's Health and Senior Services commissioner, said it is a "great day for public health in New Jersey," adding, "Hopefully, we will put this behind us and get on with the issue of saving lives." Gov. Jon Corzine (D) said, "The science is clear: Needle-exchange programs reduce sharing of contaminated needles, reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment" (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/12). "I look forward to signing the bill and seeing the program implemented rapidly," Corzine added. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D) -- who said he opposes the bill because of associations among needle access, drug use, gangs and guns -- said the measure is "a death penalty bill," adding, "This case is a death of a class of people, and they're called women and minorities" (AP/Cherry Hill Courier-Post, 12/12).
New York Times: "Data from across this country and abroad show that needle exchange actually slows the spread" of HIV "without increasing" injection drug use, a Times editorial says. "A vote for the needle-access program is a vote for saving the lives of men, women and unborn children. A vote against the program is a vote for more infections, higher medical costs and more unnecessary deaths" (New York Times, 12/11).
- Newark Star-Ledger: "The spread of HIV through drug use is one of the major reasons that New Jersey has consistently ranked at the top in terms of overall HIV" prevalence and is "first in the rate of HIV in women," a Star-Ledger editorial says. New Jersey "must use every weapon it can to change those statistics," the editorial says, adding, "People who say the state needs to do more to provide drug rehab are right. That need, however, is a reason to fight hard for more drug treatment" and not to "oppose the clean-needle legislation" (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/11).