Pubdate: Wed, 01 Sep 2004
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2004 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Associated Press
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


The Aim Is for Lawmakers and Health Officials to Make Legislation
Happen Before the Governor Leaves Office Nov. 15.

TRENTON - Gov. McGreevey has asked legislators and state health
officials to design a program that offers drug users clean needles to
slow the spread of AIDS and hepatitis C.

Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy said he met with legislators
yesterday afternoon to work out details. A specific proposal is
expected in the coming weeks, he said.

"It's our intent to have this legislation crafted, moved through the
Legislature, and to Gov. McGreevey by the end of his tenure," Lacy

McGreevey, who has been a supporter of needle-exchange programs, plans
to leave office Nov. 15 because of a sex scandal.

Camden and Atlantic City passed needle-exchange ordinances this summer
but have not implemented them pending a court ruling.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Senate
health committee, said talks to set up a state needle-exchange program
were in the early stages.

"We are trying to fashion a health policy through legislation that
will begin to stem the tide of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New Jersey,"
said Vitale, a longtime supporter of needle exchanges.

New Jersey is one of two states with neither a legal needle-exchange
program nor a law allowing nonprescription sales of needles and syringes.

Under the working proposal, municipalities could decide whether to
have a needle exchange in their towns, said State Sen. Nia Gill (D.,
Essex). The program also would provide addicts with referrals to
health-care providers and counseling.

New Jersey had 62,752 reported cases of HIV - the fifth-most in the
United States - and a third of those cases were transmitted through
shared needles, according to state officials.

Critics object to having the government supply the means by which
users of heroin and other illegal drugs can inject them. Supporters
argue that addicts will shoot up anyway and that allowing them to do
so with dirty needles leads to more infections.

Camden and Atlantic City passed their ordinances in June, in defiance
of county officials and the state Attorney General's Office. The
Atlantic City law was challenged in court on the ground that the
program would violate the state's drug paraphernalia laws.

The ordinances became law in both cities, but officials agreed not to
implement them until a court decision. A state Superior Court hearing
is scheduled for today.

Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan El, who sponsored the Camden law,
praised McGreevey's move. "He's now being the governor for the people,
the McGreevey that I supported," Sloan El said.

Camden community activist Frank Fulbrook, a longtime advocate of
needle exchanges, said McGreevey had stated during his 2001 campaign
that he would support hospital-based clinics for needle exchanges.

"This is good," Fulbrook said. "If implemented, you'll have two
needle-exchange programs operating legally in the state - in Camden
and Atlantic City - and then probably Jersey City and New Brunswick
will follow."

Several years ago, a panel convened by then-Gov. Christie Whitman
recommended needle exchanges to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, but
Whitman rejected that suggestion, saying it would send the wrong
message about drug use.

Inquirer staff writer Dwight Ott contributed to this article. 
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