A bill to establish permanent statewide needle-exchange programs (NEPs) awaits review in the New Jersey Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. The state launched syringe access sites in 2006 as a pilot program under the Blood-Borne Disease Reduction Act. Currently Newark, Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, and Paterson host programs.
A report by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services says the pilot program has helped curb the number of used needles in circulation. Data from 2007-09 indicated that 4,482 participants were enrolled, and 998 were receiving drug treatment.
The Newark NEP has served 2,8000 unique clients since its inception, according to Brian McGovern, executive director of the North Jersey Community Research Initiative. He said the state would benefit from making NEPs available beyond urban areas.
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said it makes “good moral and good financial sense” for the state to further fund the existing programs and make them permanent. The bill being proposed appropriates $95,000 toward this effort.
The bill is controversial, however, and most of Warren and Hunterdon counties’ senators voted against it last month. “I think it sends the wrong message to society,” Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren/Hunterdon) said. “On the one hand, you’re saying, ‘Drugs are bad,’ then providing needles to facilitate drug use.” Although the programs offer other services, Doherty said there are other, better means for drug users to seek treatment.
In January, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that allows pharmacies to sell up to 10 hypodermic syringes without a prescription to people older than 18.
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