Pubdate: Wed, 06 Aug 2003
Source: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2003 South Jersey Publishing Co.
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Save Lives

After years of opposition from former Gov. Christie Whitman, New Jersey now 
has a governor who says he's willing to implement a needle-exchange program.

What the state apparently does not have is a Legislature willing to endorse 
this simple, life-saving step.

Gov. James E. McGreevey and Health Commissioner Dr. Clifton Lacy have at 
least called for a pilot needle-exchange program that would allow addicts 
to turn in old syringes - 80 percent of which have been found to be 
infected with the virus that causes AIDS and/or Hepatitis C - for new ones.

New Jersey is one of only five states that criminalize the possession of a 
syringe without a prescription. Of those five, Pennsylvania and California 
at least allow some exchange programs.

The state AIDS Advisory Councils under Whitman and former Gov. Jim Florio 
called for needle exchange. McGreevey's AIDS Advisory Council meets for the 
first time today and is expected to quickly make the same recommendation. 
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the 
National Academy of Sciences all say that needle-exchange programs reduce 
the spread of AIDS without increasing drug use.

So what are McGreevey and the Legislature waiting for?

Intravenous drug use causes at least 46 percent of New Jersey's AIDS cases 
- - the third highest percentage in the nation. Intravenous drug use is the 
primary cause of pediatric AIDS. If helping heroin addicts, who routinely 
share dirty needles, isn't a high political priority, how about saving the 
lives of their non-drug-using lovers and children?

Two interesting things have happened in places that have allowed 
needle-exchange: The number of AIDS cases has dropped - and the politicians 
who supported clean-needle programs suffered no ill effects at the polls 
because of their support. But most New Jersey lawmakers remain petrified of 
coming anywhere near the issue.

Even worse, many opponents of needle exchange dare to frame this as a moral 
issue: Drug use is wrong. Supplying clean needles to addicts "condones" 
drug use. Therefore, needle exchange is wrong - even, apparently, if it 
saves lives.

What's wrong with that argument? Everything.

Drug addiction is a disease. The availability of a clean needle is not 
going to make someone an addict who isn't already one. But clean needles 
will save lives - and money.

Treating a person for AIDS costs more than $200,000 a year. Most addicts 
aren't paying for that care - the rest of us pay it, one way or another. If 
saving lives doesn't sway the Legislature, maybe saving money will.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom