New Jersey lawmakers approve needle
exchanges for drug users
News Day, December 11, 2006
AP - TRENTON, N.J. -- After years of debate, New
Jersey's lawmakers on Monday voted to allow pilot
programs that offer intravenous drug users legal
access to sterile syringes.
Aimed at combatting the spread of HIV, AIDS, hepatitis
C and other blood-borne diseases, the measure allows
six municipalities to set up programs in which drug
users would swap used needles for clean ones. It also
provides $10 million for drug treatment and provides
those exchanging needles with information and
referrals for HIV testing, drug abuse treatment and
health and social service programs.
Under the bill, the state health commissioner would
have to file reports with the governor and Legislature
on whether the program has proven effective.
It passed 49-27 in the Assembly and 23-16 in the
Senate. Both houses are controlled by Democrats. It
now heads to Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who said he will
"This bill addresses a growing public health crisis in
New Jersey and I am pleased the Legislature has taken
action," Corzine said in a statement. "I look forward
to signing the bill and seeing the program implemented
Currently, New Jersey is the only state without either
a needle exchange program or one that allows syringes
to be sold without a prescription.
According to research by the Office of Legislative
Services, the Legislature's nonpartisan legal research
arm, 11 states have statewide laws allowing needle
exchange programs; 22 states and Puerto Rico have
exchange programs because no law specifically
prohibits it; and there are at least 184 needle
exchange programs around the country.
While advocates contend needle exchanges stem the
spread of disease through dirty needles, foes argue
such programs enable illicit drug use.
"We have an opportunity to save thousands of lives
that otherwise could be lost because of our state's
failure to enact sensible syringe access policies,"
said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden.
Roberts, a leading needle exchange advocate, called
New Jersey's lack of access "embarrassing" given the
state's staggering number residents living with
The state ranks among the top five in the number of
residents with HIV/AIDS, the annual number of new
HIV/AIDS cases and the rate of infections among women.
In New Jersey, 44 percent of those with AIDS
contracted it from sharing needles _ double the
national average _ according to the Kaiser Family
Supporters have been trying to pass a needle exchange
bill in New Jersey since 1993. The Assembly approved
one 2004, but the Senate never followed suit.
Under the measure approved Monday, people who run and
participate in the program would have to carry program
identification cards, protecting them from prosecution
for carrying drug paraphernalia. There are no
protections for anyone carrying drugs.
Critics seized on the program identification
provision, calling it a "get-out-of-jail-free card."
The Assembly on Monday also approved legislation to
allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a
prescription to people over 18 years of age, but the
Senate hasn't considered that proposal. Passing 50-28,
that measure had even more support in the Assembly
than the needle exchange pilot programs.
Under it, adults could purchase up to 10 syringes
without a prescription.
Though the bills easily passed, there was no shortage
of critics on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Ronald Rice, who passionately cited links between
drug, gangs and guns as a reason to ban needle access,
deemed the legislation "a death penalty bill" for
women and minorities, who suffer some of the highest
rates of HIV/AIDS in the state.
"This case is a death of a class of people, and
they're called women and minorities," said Rice,
The Newark Democrat, who says needle exchange programs
don't work, tried unsuccessfully to remove syringe
access from the bill.
Another proposed amendment by Assemblyman Joe
Pennacchio, R-Morris and Passaic, would have
effectively established background checks to bar
felons or state-sponsored foster parents from
obtaining the needles. That idea was quickly voted