New Jersey Becomes Last State in Nation with No Access to Sterile Syringes to Prevent the Spread of HIV and Hepatitis C

Press Release July 18, 2006
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at (609) 610-8243

Trenton- Late last night, the Massachusetts legislature passed legislation allowing for non-prescription sale of syringes in pharmacies. The vote came just one day after Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed legislation allowing syringe exchange in that state. The Massachusetts legislative vote overrode a veto by Governor Mitt Romney. With these actions, New Jersey becomes the only state in the nation with no access to sterile syringes either through syringe exchange programs or non-prescription pharmacy sale of syringes.

“New Jersey’s position on sterile syringe access is a disgrace,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “Year after year, other states have changed their laws to allow for sterile syringe access to fight AIDS and hepatitis C. And year after year, New Jersey has done nothing, allowing people to continue to get infected and continue to die.”

New Jersey has the 5th highest number of adult HIV cases, the 3rd high number of pediatric HIV cases and the highest proportion of HIV infections among women in the nation. Most striking, the state’s rate of HIV infection related to the sharing of contaminated syringes is twice the national average.

Ronald Cash, health officer and director of the Division of Health in Atlantic City, expressed disbelief at New Jersey’s continued inaction. “The legislature and governor need to throw out the lifeline,” said Cash. “Our most vulnerable community members are drowning. They’re dying from a preventable disease. Other states are making the right choices. Why aren’t we?”

Atlantic City passed an ordinance in 2004 to establish a syringe exchange program in the city, but the county prosecutor sued the city to stop the implementation of the ordinance and the state appeals court held that the city did not have the authority to establish a syringe exchange program without legislation from the state. One in 31 African Americans in Atlantic City are infected with HIV and more than 50 percent of those infections were caused by sharing of contaminated syringes.

The first sterile syringe access bill was introduced in New Jersey in 1993 by the late Senator Wynona Lipmann and Senate President Richard Codey. Numerous bills have been introduced since then but none have made it to the governor’s desk. In October, 2004 the New Jersey General Assembly passed two bills that would have allowed for the creation of municipal syringe exchange programs and non-prescription pharmacy sale of syringes. But the bills stalled in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. Shortly after that Governor James McGreevey signed an executive order allowing for the creation of syringe exchange programs in three cities, but the order was challenged in court by four legislators and expired at the end of 2005 without any action being taken. The two bills, S823/A2839 and S494/A1852, continue to languish in the legislature although the governor, assembly speaker, and senate president have all expressed support.

Jose Quann, who runs the neighborhood health van for the Camden Area Health Education Center called for action by the legislature to allow the Camden to provide sterile syringe access. “It is a tragedy that the New Jersey legislature has not moved on this life-saving crucial issue,” said Quann. “We now have the embarrassment of being the only state where injection drug users have no access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.” Camden Area Health Education Center would have provided sterile syringe exchange under Camden’s syringe access ordinance, and currently provides an array of other services to drug users and other at-risk communities.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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