Pubdate: Wed, 27 Oct 2004
Source: Gloucester County Times (NJ)
Copyright: 2004 Gloucester County Times
Author: Terrence Dopp
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


TRENTON - Gov. James E. McGreevey on Tuesday sidestepped an unwilling
Legislature on attempts to block a proposal giving injection drug
users legal access to sterile needles.

Declaring a public health emergency, McGreevey signed an executive
order establishing trial needle exchange programs for three cities
with high AIDS rates, including Camden, Atlantic City and one more to
be determined.

Supporters see the contentious needle-swapping programs as a way to
stem the spread of fatal blood-borne diseases such as HIV and
Hepatitis C. Legislation authorizing them statewide passed the
Assembly earlier this month but stalled in the Senate Health Committee.

"We've been unable to achieve consensus," said McGreevey, who leaves
office Nov. 15. "This is not a political issue. This executive order
will save lives."

The order would use a health emergency in order to make an end run
around the state's drug paraphernalia laws, which prohibit the
syringes. Drug users would be allowed to exchange used needles for
clean ones within the trial communities.

New Jersey and Delaware are the only two states without laws granting
drug users access to sterile needles.

Throughout debate on the issue, supporters and detractors argued over
a number of studies in cities such as Vancouver and Baltimore where
needle exchanges have been tried. According to proponents the programs
cut the spread of AIDS and HIV by 29 percent.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services reported as of June
30 the Garden State logged 64,219 cases of HIV infection. Injection
drug users, their partners or their children account for 51 percent of
all infections, the agency reported.

That rate is twice the national average.

"It's puzzling and disappointing to me that so many people are against
this. We have the AIDS and HIV deaths to prove we're on the wrong
track here," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts, D-5 of
Camden, who sponsored Assembly legislation allowing over-the-counter
syringe sales and exchanges.

Roberts said McGreevey's decision to unilaterally authorize needle
swaps addressed a serious health crisis and patched over flaws in drug
paraphernalia laws written before the age of AIDS.

But Citizens Against Needle Exchange, an umbrella group representing
75 organizations against allowing users to trade in syringes, said it
is weighing legal options to halt implementation of McGreevey's order.

"Studies show that half of the needles given out in the programs don't
come back. They are putting needles out on the street," said David
Evans, a Flemington attorney affiliated with the group. "It does not
cut down on needle sharing by addicts. They continue to do it."

One of the prime backers of needle exchange legislation applauded
McGreevey's action.

"It would have been great had the Legislature moved forward but it
looked stalled and something had to be done," said Roseanne Scotti,
director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that has pushed
for the initiative in the Garden State.

McGreevey's order would need to be re-authorized by each incoming

Sen. Fred Madden, D-4 of Washington Township, questioned the
legislation when it went before the health panel because he said it
allowed drug users throughout the state to attain free needles within
the communities conducting the exchange programs. Under the Tuesday
order, communities would need to authorize the exchanges with a local
ordinance but no residency requirements would govern who joins the

"The same questions I had about the bill still stand with the
executive order," Madden, whose district lies minutes outside of
Camden, said after the signing. "People from outside of Camden are
going to go and join." 
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