Pubdate: Thu, 07 Feb 2002
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2002 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Author: Susan K. Livio
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


It took nine years and four governors, but a panel created to address AIDS 
in New Jersey finally has a New Jersey chief executive's support for a 
needle exchange program to combat the spread of the deadly disease.

Yesterday, the Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS met for the first time 
during the new administration of Gov. James E. McGreevey, who has said he 
will create a pilot needle exchange program to fight AIDS among intravenous 
drug users and their sexual partners.

The advisory council outlined a plan to lobby for legislation that would 
decriminalize syringe possession, and to publicize the success of such 
programs elsewhere in the world.

"We're very excited about what we can do under a new administration," said 
the council's acting chairman, Terry Zealand. He called upon his colleagues 
to be "re-energized."

Zealand named Riki Jacobs, executive director of the Hyacinth AIDS 
Foundation, to be the council's legislative "watchdog" who will keep tabs 
on the bills. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), also a member, 
introduced a bill last month that calls for the Department of Health and 
Senior Services to create a three-year pilot program that would take used 
syringes in exchange for clean ones.

"New Jersey is the only state in the Northeast without a needle exchange 
program, yet the No. 1 cause of AIDS in this state is IV drugs," Gusciora said.

Among the state's 43,000 AIDS cases, more than half are attributed to 
intravenous drug use. The program proposed by Gusciora would also offer 
access to drug treatment.

"This is going to be a very exciting issue for us," Zealand said. "Our hope 
is that it doesn't get bogged down in politics and controversy."

The council first took a position in favor of needle exchange in 1993, but 
no governor from Jim Florio through Donald DiFrancesco has been willing to 
embrace the concept. Christie Whitman was particularly adamant, saying 
giving addicts needles condoned illegal drug use and sent a harmful message.

Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, a conservative 
research organization, is one of the few members of the council who opposes 
syringe exchange.

"Some have a great deal of zeal" for needle exchange, Deo noted. "I'm not 
discouraged. I just want to answer questions that make sense."
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