Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jun 2004
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2004 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Authors: Dwight Ott and Troy Graham, Inquirer Staff Writers
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Camden last night became the second city in New Jersey to defy state
law enforcement officials by adopting a plan to provide clean syringes
to intravenous drug users.

City Council passed the needle-exchange ordinance, 4-0, a week after
Atlantic City approved a similar program. On Wednesday, Atlantic
County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed suit to challenge Atlantic
City's program.

Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said he would review the
Camden ordinance before deciding whether to take legal action.

The state Attorney General's Office has declared that needle exchanges
violate state law. Some legislators have proposed bills this year to
allow various kinds of needle exchanges, but none of the bills has
become law.

Randy Primas, Camden's state-designated chief operating officer, has
veto power over any measure passed by Council, and he has said he
concurs with the attorney general.

Primas did not attend last night's meeting, but Council President
Angel Fuentes said Primas had agreed not to take action before meeting
with a 12-member committee that has studied needle exchanges.

"It is a national health issue," Fuentes said. "We hope other
municipalities will do the same thing and have the courage and the
guts to move forward."

Jeffrey Brenner, a family physician who chaired the ad hoc committee,
described Camden as having an HIV/AIDS crisis, with roughly one in 100
residents infected. According to the committee's research, he said,
about 41 percent of those infected had contracted the disease through
intravenous drug use. About one in 48 Atlantic City residents is infected.

"This is not only a benefit to IV drug users but those that may come
in contact with them," Brenner said.

After passing the ordinance, Council received a standing ovation from
about 30 people attending the meeting. Emery Troy, the head of Dooley
House, a home established to treat HIV-positive children, thanked
Council for "the courage to take on needle exchange."

"I know you will take a lot of heat," said Troy, a member of the ad
hoc committee. "We can't keep putting this off, playing games. What is
there to think about? What do you need to think about when people are

New Jersey has the nation's fifth-highest rate of HIV infection, but
it is one of only two states that has neither a legal needle-exchange
program nor a law allowing nonprescription sales of needles.

Only five of the seven Council members attended last night's meeting,
and one, Councilman Frank Moran, abstained from voting. "I'm in favor
of the concept, but it's too vague," Moran said "It's not addressing
the real problem."

Councilman Ali Sloan El, who sponsored the ordinance, said a needle
exchange "is not the answer."

"We need the [cooperation] of law enforcement to keep these drugs out
of the community," he said. "That's what I wish for."

The Atlantic County prosecutor's challenge to the Atlantic City
ordinance is scheduled to go to court July 7, the day before the
program is to begin.

In court filings, the prosecutor said needle exchanges would violate
drug paraphernalia laws. 
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