Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jun 2004
Source: Morning Call (PA)
Copyright: 2004 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: John Curran, Of The Associated Press
Cited: Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Atlantic City Aims to Combat HIV Spread, but Suit Says It's Illegal.

ATLANTIC CITY - Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed suit
Wednesday to stop the city from establishing a needle exchange program.

Saying it would violate state law, Blitz filed a four-page civil suit
in Superior Court asking that the city be barred from forging ahead
with plans to give hypodermic syringes to drug addicts who turn in
dirty ones.

The Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986 bans the distribution of
syringes to people who don't have a valid prescription for a
legitimate medical purpose, Blitz said.

"If the activity is allowed to commence, there will be irreparable
harm, in that the prosecutor will be forced to arrest persons for
unlawfully receiving that which another component of government has
given to them," according to the suit, which also asked that a city
ordinance establishing the needle exchange be invalidated.

Supporters say a 1989 amendment to that law exempts municipalities
from the restriction, but Blitz contends that the while the city
itself is exempt, those who would receive needles are not.

Possession of a syringe without a prescription is a disorderly persons

Blitz's bid to stop the exchange is equivalent to helping spread the
HIV virus, according to Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy
Alliance of New Jersey.

"This is a public health HIV-prevention measure," Scotti said. "The
fact that he's challenging this in a city where one in every 32
African-Americans are infected with the virus and holding up is a
tragedy. It's tantamount to helping spread the virus when you step in
to bar a program from going forward that's proven to reduce the spread
of the virus."

Citing high rates of HIV infection in this casino capital, City
Council last week approved the ordinance. It was signed into law
Monday by Mayor Lorenzo Langford and takes effect July 8.

Critics say needle exchanges can encourage drug use by putting
government in the position of supplying the means by which users of
heroin and other illegal drugs can inject them.

Supporters say addicts will shoot up anyway, and that allowing them to
do so with dirty needles leads to more infections.

As of 2003, New Jersey had 62,752 reported cases of HIV -- the
fifth-highest in the United States -- and more than half were
transmitted through shared needles, according to state officials.

The suit was served on city solicitor Beverly Graham-Foy, City Council
solicitor Daniel Gallagher and the city clerk.

Graham-Foy, who had advised the city against adopting the ordinance,
said she will vigorously defend the city nonetheless.

"We would argue that the exception still holds and that the city still
has the power to implement the program," Graham-Foy said.

Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong has set a July 7 hearing on the
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