Harm Reduction in New Jersey

DPA is working to reduce the harms associated with drug use and ineffective drug policies in New Jersey. Since 2003, we have successfully advocated for policies to prevent opioid overdose and expand access to life-saving sterile syringes that protect against HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.

Our current priorities include establishing overdose prevention centers (also known as safe consumption spaces), expanding access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, supporting the growth of the syringe access programs in New Jersey, and preventing the spread of hepatitis C.

Overdose Prevention Centers

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death nationally and in New Jersey, with more than 3,000 New Jersey residents dying from overdose each year. Many of these deaths are preventable and DPA works to promote policies that will help save lives through the Overdose Prevention Campaign.

DPA is advocating for legislation (Senate Bill 3293 / Assembly Bill 4638) to establish overdose prevention centers (also known as safe consumption spaces) in response to the devastating loss of life. Overdose prevention centers are locations where people can legally consume previously purchased drugs under the supervision of trained staff. The staff are able to provide immediate assistance in the case of an overdose and connect people to drug treatment, medical care, social services and harm reduction services.

Fear of arrest and prosecution, as well as the stigma attached to drug use, force people to hide their drug use or use drugs in unsafe conditions.  If these barriers were removed, countless lives could be saved. New Jersey should add another critical tool to its overdose prevention toolbox by allowing for the establishment of overdose prevention centers.  

In April 2019, DPA co-organized a forum with The College of New Jersey featuring an expert panel of public health officials, researchers, legal experts, and community leaders on innovations in overdose prevention. Watch experts at the forum talk about how overdose prevention centers can save lives.

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Good Samaritan Law

DPA led a coalition to pass the Overdose Prevention Act. The law, passed in 2013, encourages overdose witnesses to call 911 by providing Good Samaritan legal protections to overdose victims and witnesses.

The law also allows access to naloxone for anyone who may be in a position to assist in an overdose emergency and provides legal protections for laypeople who administer naloxone. People are rarely alone when they overdose, and providing naloxone access to individuals who use drugs and to their family and friends is a critical public health approach to preventing overdose deaths.

“Instead of helping to save a life by seeking emergency medical services, my son was left alone to die, without the help he needed and deserved. I lost my son, and my grandson lost his Daddy, because someone was afraid to call 911.”  - Patty DiRenzo

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DPA successfully advocated for legislation (Senate Bill 295 / Assembly Bill 2334) that further expanded access to naloxone by making the life-saving medication available without a prescription. Prior to the passage of this legislation, individuals were able to access naloxone by obtaining a prescription for naloxone from a personal physician, without a prescription at larger pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, or for free through one of the community distribution programs in the state.

Although larger pharmacies were already able to offer naloxone to individuals without a prescription, this was not a statewide policy. The recently passed legislation will allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription under a standing order from the Department of Health.

Thousands of lives have already been saved because of New Jersey’s expanded access to naloxone, and this legislation will go a long way to preventing more deaths in New Jersey.

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Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (i.e. methadone, buprenorphine) has been proven to be safe and effective. Evidence demonstrates that MAT increases treatment retention while reducing morbidity and mortality, opioid use, overdoses, and risk behaviors that transmit HIV and hepatitis C.

DPA is advocating for legislation (Senate Bill 3314 / Assembly Bill 4744) to remove prior authorizations for MAT under Medicaid (a 2017 law removed prior authorizations for MAT under all commercial plans in New Jersey). Requiring prior authorization can delay addiction treatment, potentially resulting in a missed opportunity to intervene with patients struggling with substance use disorders. Governor Murphy recently barred prior authorizations for MAT under Medicaid, and this legislation will codify this much-needed change into law.

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Sterile Syringe Access

DPA advocates for expanding access to sterile syringes. Such access is critical to reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases and can often be a matter of life and death.

In 2006, DPA led a campaign to pass the Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which allowed for the establishment of pilot syringe access programs (SAPs) in New Jersey.  Programs were originally established in Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson and have been a resounding success.  

Reports from the New Jersey Department of Health published under both the Corzine and Christie administrations have praised their effectiveness.  According to the reports and follow-up statistics:

  • The programs have enrolled more than 10,000 participants.
  • About 25% of participants have successfully entered drug treatment.
  • Thousands of participants have been tested for HIV and hepatitis C and referred for treatment.
  • Thousands have been referred to other medical and social services.
  • There has been no associated increase in crime or improperly discarded syringes.
  • Scores of clients have been trained in overdose prevention and provided with the opioid antidote naloxone through newly established overdose prevention services.

In 2016, DPA successfully advocated for legislation to make the pilot SAPs permanent and to allow new SAPs to open in New Jersey. While signing the legislation, Governor Christie also directed the New Jersey Commissioner of Health to invest $200,000 in the existing syringe access programs for the purchase of syringes and related supplies. Since then, two new cities, Trenton and Asbury Park, have launched their own SAPs.

DPA is currently working with the Murphy Administration's Department of Health to expand syringe access programs across the state. 

“Some people say that syringe access ‘sends the wrong message.’ The message that was sent to me was that my father’s life didn’t matter – that no one cared.” - Michele

Read more Stories from the Movement from people who have lost loved ones due to AIDS.

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Hepatitis C Action Campaign

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can destroy people’s health and lives. Liver disease, liver cancer and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise in New Jersey and across the country. Between 3 and 4 million people in the United States have hepatitis C. More than 150,000 people are infected in New Jersey alone.

Because hepatitis C often has no symptoms, people can go for decades without discovering they have it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C. Three quarters of the people with hepatitis C are in this age group.  African Americans and veterans in this age group have substantially higher rates of hepatitis C infection.

DPA is currently leading a coalition to pass legislation (Senate Bill 483 / Assembly Bill 3831) that would require hospitals and health care professionals to offer hepatitis C testing to people in this age group. This will effectively focus the fight on those who are at greatest risk. The bill will also expand rapid hepatitis C testing making it easier and faster for people to be tested and get their test results.

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