Needle-Exchange Pilot Program in New Jersey Is ‘Struggling’ To Enroll IDUs, AP/Long Island Newsday Reports
New Jersey's pilot needle-exchange program is "struggling" to enroll injection drug users in part because of a lack of funding, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Mulvihill, AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/23). The pilot programs were recently launched in Camden and Paterson, N.J. Another program has been in effect in Atlantic City since November 2007, and a program in Newark is also scheduled to start, according to Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services in August 2007 approved the establishment of three-year needle-exchange programs in the four cities. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in December 2006 signed into law a bill that allows six cities to establish needle-exchange programs and provides $10 million to drug treatment programs in the state. The state health commissioner must report to the governor and state Legislature on whether the needle-exchange programs are effective. In addition, people who participate in and run the programs are required to carry identification cards that protect them from being arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia. No state funding will be allocated to the cities for operating needle-exchange programs.
To be eligible for a program, a city must have at least 300 HIV/AIDS cases attributed to injection drug use per 100,000 residents and at least 350 confirmed HIV/AIDS cases overall. Each program will be required to report data on the number of people participating in the programs and referred to drug treatment, the status of their treatment and the number of syringes exchanged. According to state Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs, the data will be used to promote the expansion of the programs and will remain anonymous (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/31).
While the state government allocated $10 million toward drug treatment, it did not fund the needle-exchange programs, which is making it difficult to reach IDUs, the AP/Newsday reports. According to a 2005 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, at least 43% of the state's 48,000 reported HIV/AIDS cases were transmitted through needles. While it is believed that the state has tens of thousands of IDUs, there are only 200 people enrolled in the three pilot programs so far.
"All the programs in New Jersey are operating on a shoestring," Scotti said, adding that despite the program's modest start, the needle-exchanges are promising. Kim McCargo, who oversees the exchange at the Camden Area Health Education Center, said it would take $500,000 annually to run a program that could distribute clean needles three days weekly at more than one location. She added that the Camden program is running on about $85,000 in grants, which is enough to provide clean needles once a week.
Jerome King, director of Well of Hope Drop-in Center in Paterson, N.J., said, "People are still getting over the stigmas and some of the fears, not knowing if [the needle-exchange center is] a police trap." He added, "Once people feel safe, it will pick up" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/23).