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Atlantic City–Supporters of sterile syringe access reacted with outrage to Attorney General Peter Harvey’s announcement that he would challenge Atlantic City’s legal authority to establish a sterile syringe access program in the city. Sterile syringe programs have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV without increasing rates of drug use.
Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey said, “This is a disgrace. The Attorney General is trying to prevent Atlantic City from implementing a proven HIV prevention program that the city clearly has the legal authority to implement. It is tragic that the state would do this in light of the public health crisis facing the city. How many lives will be lost because of this misguided move?”
But supporters cheered news that Senator Nia H. Gill (D. Essex Co.) will introduce legislation clarifying that municipalities can establish needle-exchange programs under state supervision in an effort to stem New Jersey’s epidemic rates of AIDS and HIV infection. “More than 22,000 children in New Jersey have been orphaned by HIV,” Gill said. “If we save the parents of just one child we will have succeeded. But all studies show we can save the parents of many children.”
Atlantic City has the highest proportion of African Americans infected with HIV in the state, with 1 in 32 African Americans in the city living with HIV/AIDS according the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Sixty percent of all HIV infections in the city are causes by people sharing dirty needles. Faced with this public health crisis, city officials recently announced their plans to establish a sterile syringe access program under the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Scott Burris, a professor at Temple Law School, and Associate Director of the Center for Law and the Public Health at John Hopkins University, who is also the foremost authority on syringe access laws in the county, expressed amazement at the legal challenge. “I look forward to finding out exactly what legal objection the attorney general has. The statute and its legislative history clearly show that local governments are exempt from the law against distributing syringes.”
Local residents in Atlantic City responded with anger and disappointment to the news. Carole Ceanfaglione, a nurse in Atlantic City, who lost her son to injection-related HIV, said she could not understand why anyone would challenge the city’s right to provide such a life saving program. “So many people have lost their lives to this–not just people who are drug users themselves, but also women who have been infected by their drug using partners, and babies who have gotten the virus from their mothers. We have to do something to protect people.” New Jersey has the highest proportion of women infected with HIV in the country and the 3rd highest pediatric HIV rate in the country.