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Camden–Last night at a crowded meeting, Camden City Council passed an ordinance establishing a syringe access program to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood borne diseases. Council members voted 4-0 (with one abstention) to pass the ordinance, introduced by Councilman Ali Sloan-El. Like many cities in New Jersey, Camden has been hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, and City Council has long been supportive of sterile syringe access to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. One in 102 city residents are infected with HIV, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Atlantic City passed a similar ordinance last week.
Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, praised the council’s passage of the ordinance. “This is about saving lives. Camden and Atlantic City have shown real leadership on this issue,” said Scotti. “The members of council see the devastation caused by HIV and hepatitis C everyday in their communities. They have stepped up to the plate to protect the public health of their constituents. “
State Attorney General Peter Harvey has vowed to challenge Atlantic City and Camden’s ordinances. Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed a complaint in Atlantic County Superior Court on Wednesday challenging Atlantic City’s ordinance, and Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi has said he will review Camden’s ordinance.
Before the council voted it heard recommendations from an ad hoc committee created to study the issue. Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a physician from Camden, who chaired the committee, read the recommendations urging the council to pass the ordinance. Dr. Brenner cited national and local support for syringe access. “The amount of support is really quite extraordinary,” said Brenner, “On the national level the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, and many others support this. And in New Jersey, the Medical Society of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, and a long list of other groups have endorsed syringe access.” Council president Angel Fuentes thanked Dr. Brenner and the ad hoc committee saying, “Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the people of Camden.”
Council chambers were filled with local supporters, including some of the most prominent members of Camden’s AIDS services community. “I know you may take a lot of heat,” said Emery Troy, a member of the ad hoc committee, and President of the Camden HIV/AIDS Advisory Council. “But 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 dying?”
New Jersey has the 5th adult HIV rate, the 3rd highest pediatric HIV rate, and the highest percentage of women infected with HIV in the nation. In addition, New Jersey’s rate of injection related HIV is almost twice the national average. Despite these statistics, New Jersey has been almost alone among states in allowing no access whatsoever to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.