Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
Source: Courier-Post (NJ)
Copyright: 2004 Courier-Post
Author: Luis Puga, Courier-Post Staff
Cited: Prevention Point Philadelphia
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Chief Operating Officer Opposes Program

As advocates applauded Atlantic City's city council vote to create the
state's first needle exchange program Wednesday, supporters of a
similar program here will have to overcome the opposition of Randy
Primas, the city's chief operating officer.

Primas, who has the authority under the Municipal Recovery Act to veto
city council actions, said he would have to abide by the state
attorney general's opinion that needle exchange programs are illegal.

Council has tabled an ordinance creating a needle exchange program
until an ad hoc committee, scheduled to meet June 22, makes a

The question for the municipality is the legality of it, he said. "I
would have to take direction from the state attorney general," Primas

Primas added, "I do believe in stemming the health outcomes and I am
concerned about how costly (HIV and hepatitis) is to society as a
whole, but first it has to pass legal muster."

Councilman Ali Sloan El, who introduced the ordinance, said he
welcomes any legal challenge.

"We welcome him not defending us against the health crisis in Camden
city," he said. "What happens now when we don't have needle exchange?
Needles are where? Everywhere. Is Randy dealing with that? No."

The attorney general's position is also supported by the Camden County
Prosecutor's Office, according to spokesman Bill Shralow.

"Our role is to interpret and enforce the law," he said. "We have an
interpretation from the Attorney General's Office that needle exchange
violates the criminal code. And we concur with that interpretation."

Shralow said if a judge decrees otherwise, his office would abide by
that. And Roseanne Scotti, director Drug Policy Alliance of New
Jersey, said she believes there is no question that needle exchange is

She noted a 1999 amendment to state paraphernalia laws that says
government entities can operate needle exchanges.

The only prohibition may be against clients, since individuals are
barred from carrying needles without a prescription.

Scotti noted Pennsylvania has that law too, but Prevention Point, a
Philadelphia based needle exchange program, operates legally because
police simply don't enforce it.

Frank Fulbrook, a local activist who attended Atlantic City's council
meeting, said members voted in favor of needle exchange, with one
opposed and one abstention. He said supporters are anticipating a
legal challenge to that vote from the Atlantic County Prosecutor's

"There is a contradiction in the current New Jersey syringe laws," he
said. "Our position is that government sponsored needle exchange
programs are legal now."

The alliance also announced new polling data that suggests there is
popular support for needle exchange among residents.

The group commissioned a poll of 600 likely voters in New Jersey,
which was conducted by the Polling Company, a Washington D.C. based

The poll was conducted from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, and has a 3.6 percent
margin of error.

According to the poll, 56 percent of the people polled support needle
exchange programs.

Also, 60 percent view drug use as a public health issue as opposed to
28 percent that view it as a law enforcement problem.

And, 79 percent think drug users need treatment as opposed to 10
percent that feel they need punishment.

Also, 49 percent said they would vote for a candidate who supported
needle exchange if they had no other information. Twenty percent said
it would make no difference.

Scotti said, "There's overwhelming evidence and research. There are
seven, major government funded studies that found that needle exchange
programs reduce HIV infection and do not increase drug use. We always
say people can recover from drug addition. There is no cure for AIDS."

For now, Gov. James McGreevey has said he believes needle exchange
should be done by hospitals.

"(The governor) believes municipalities have enough to worry about
with keeping the streets paved and the garbage clean up," said Micah
Rasmussen, McGreevey's spokesperson.

Scotti said only three hospital programs were ever created in the

"And, all of them either closed or moved to a community based
program," she said. "It just doesn't work in hospitals." She said
cities like Camden are better equipped to handle needle exchange
through their HIV outreach programs.

"That is not to say that the results can't be different here,"
Rasmussen said. "It's not to say the results shouldn't be different." 
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