Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2004 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: John Curran, Associated Press
Cited: Prevention Point Philadelphia
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


The vote set a precedent in defiance of state law. Camden, too, is
considering starting a program.

ATLANTIC CITY - Casting themselves as defiant do-gooders - and
flouting a state ban - the City Council voted yesterday to enact New
Jersey's first municipally operated needle exchange.

By a 7-1 vote, with one abstention, the council authorized city health
officials to distribute syringes to intravenous drug users to help
stem the spread of blood-borne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis

The program could be operating by this fall, said Ron Cash, city
director of health and human services, with health officials handing
out syringes from a van that already takes medical services into the

"This is the moral, human and correct thing to do," Council President
Craig Callaway said.

Camden's City Council also is considering such a program, and a vote
is expected soon.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz and state officials have said
they will take steps, if necessary, to enforce the state's needle law
- - which bans giveaways.

Critics say needle giveaways do little to address the drug problem,
instead encouraging or condoning high-risk behavior by drug addicts.

But many in Atlantic City believe that the number of residents
infected with HIV - one of every 40 people - argues for a government
initiative to curb addict reuse of syringes.

"We're in a city where HIV is at epidemic levels," said resident
Marguerite Burgess, 35. "At this rate, the community is slowly dying.
This is not about condoning the behavior - but if they're going to do
it, let's be safe about it."

The vote came after 10 speakers urged approval. Among them were Camden
activist Frank Fulbrook and Camden Councilman Ali Sloan El.

"It's a pathetic situation we have in this state, where trying to save
lives is a crime," Fulbrook said.

Alison McCray, syringe exchange program coordinator for Prevention
Point Philadelphia, an AIDS service organization, said HIV infection
rates had dropped dramatically in Philadelphia since the program began
in 1991.

"It's a public health issue that affects the entire population," said
McCray, who was present for the vote with about 20 other people from
her organization. 
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