New Jersey: A Shot at Syringe Access Reform
June 18, 2003
Because sharing needles is more effective at spreading HIV than sex, many states in the early days of the AIDS epidemic began to legalize the sale of syringes, and some even funded needle exchange programs. But in New Jersey, opposition to such programs has been strong, particularly during the administration of Gov. Christie Whitman.
Critics point out that public health in New Jersey has suffered as a result. Nationwide, IV drug use accounts for 25 percent of HIV infections. But in New Jersey, it accounts for 46 percent of cases, according to state and federal data. The state has the ninth largest population in the nation but ranks fifth in total AIDS cases. New Jersey also has the highest rate of HIV-infected women and the third-highest rate of pediatric AIDS.
Proponents of legal syringe sale and needle exchange are hoping that Gov. James E. McGreevey will be an ally for the cause. They are encouraged by McGreevy's appointment of a health commissioner who favors such programs and an AIDS advisory group with members who support those measures. "Under Whitman, we knew it was never going to happen. But McGreevey has indicated support. Certainly, the political climate is more receptive," said Roseanne Scotti, director of the nonprofit New Jersey Drug Policy Project, which advocates needle exchange.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) would allow syringes to be legally sold but would not provide state funding for needle exchange. According to Gusciora, his bill "nullifies critics who say we should not use taxpayer money to facilitate the habit of addicts. This would enable nonprofit service providers to run their own [programs]." He is planning hearings for the fall.
State Health Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy said the state "can move forward" on the issue of needle exchange. Lacy added that he and McGreevey support legalization of syringes and hospital-based needle exchange programs that provide drug treatment and education as well as other services such as TB testing.
Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.)
06.15.03; Carol Ann Campbell
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.