Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243
Trenton – New Jersey moved one step closer today to allowing a life-saving syringe access program. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held a hearing today on Senate Bill 494 and voted the bill out of committee by a 9-5 margin. Senate Bill 494 would allow for the establishment of up to six municipal syringe access programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood borne diseases.
Testimony on the bill was limited to the fiscal component, which appropriates $10 million for additional drug treatment services in New Jersey. Representatives from the Department of Human Services, including Raquel Mazon Jeffers, acting director of the Division of Addiction Services, appeared before the committee in support of the life-saving legislation. Her testimony emphasized that there is extensive evidence that syringe access programs reduce the spread of HIV and that syringe access programs are unique points of contact for intravenous drug users creating the opportunity to provide services including drug treatment referrals and HIV testing.
Public health, medical and HIV prevention advocates applauded the committee’s action on Senate Bill 494. The bill now moves to the full senate for a vote.
“We want to thank the senators on the committee for voting for this life-saving bill,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “This is public health policy at its best. This bill will protect our communities from HIV and hepatitis C and will provide additional drug treatment services for people seeking help. This is a win/win situation for New Jersey.”
Supporters of the legislation include the Medical Society of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children, the National Association of Social Workers-New Jersey Chapter, the Licensed Practical Nurse Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, and the Dogwood Center.
New Jersey has the fifth-highest number of adult HIV cases, the third-highest 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.
“It’s an embarrassment that we are behind every other state on this issue,” said NJ Assembly Speaker, Joseph J. Roberts, Jr., in a prepared statement. “Our outdated approach is costing lives and wasting valuable health care resources.”