Pubdate: Tue, 12 Dec 2006
Source: Home News Tribune (East Brunswick, NJ)
Copyright: 2006 Home News Tribune
Author: Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett State Bureau
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


TRENTON -- Cities would be allowed to set up programs giving drug 
addicts access to clean needles under a measure passed by the 
Legislature yesterday that has the support of Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

Both the Senate and Assembly approved the measure, which allows up to 
six New Jersey communities to set up clean-needle-exchange programs 
and provides $10 million of state funding for drug-abuse-treatment programs.

The measure passed 23-16 in the Senate and 49-27 with four 
abstentions in the Assembly, where the debate was not nearly as 
fierce or lengthy.

Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, who called the measure a "death penalty" 
for urban women and minorities, led the opposition, often banging on 
his desk and looking his colleagues in their eyes, telling them they 
are largely unaffected by this urban issue.

Proponents of the program say it will help curb the spread of 
HIV/AIDS and other bloodborne diseases among intravenous-drug users. 
Critics say it sanctions criminal drug use while ignoring other 
related problems such as gang violence. Both sides say the other's 
scientific studies are not accurate.

"People are not dying from HIV," Rice said. "They're dying from 
overdose, homicide, and they're also dying of suicide."

Bill sponsor Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, countered that "thousands upon 
thousands of children of all colors would die" without the law. After 
bickering up to the last minute over whether the program will work, 
Gill said New Jersey soon will get firm proof.

"We're going to get an answer," Gill said. "I know it's going to have 
an effect."

Similar debate occurred simultaneously in the Assembly.

Opponents, however, refused to give a pass to criminal behavior.

"This bill says any of these drug addicts can walk the streets and 
drive cars with a dirty hypodermic needle because he has a card in 
his pocket," Assemblyman John Rooney, R-Bergen, said. "It's a 
get-out-of-jail-free card."

Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, however, said AIDS 
does not discriminate.

"We cannot afford to ignore an entire segment of our population," 
said Watson Coleman, D-Mercer. "We cannot choose to look the other 
way because of the lifestyle or prevention program may not be viewed 
as politically popular or correct."

Corzine issued a statement saying the bill "addresses a growing 
public-health crisis" and that he plans to sign it soon.

Contributing: Michael Rispoli