Trenton-The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday October 12 at 10 a.m. on Senate Bill 494. The hearing will take place in Committee Room 4 on the first floor of the Statehouse Annex. The bill 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. The bill was voted out of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee on September 18.
The bill will be considered by the Senate Budget Committee because it contains $10 million for additional drug treatment services. Public health, medical and HIV prevention advocates expressed strong support for the bill and hope that the committee would do the right thing and send the bill to the full senate.
“This bill will save lives by preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and will provide additional help for those who want to access drug treatment,” said Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “It is critical that this legislation be sent to the full senate.”
Municipal support for SB 494 was recently demonstrated by the Camden City Council, which passed Resolution 55 in support of the legislation. In addition, the New Brunswick City Council, which previously passed a resolution concerning syringe access, is scheduled to consider the issue again at their next meeting on October 18.
Advocates have redoubled efforts to get the life-saving legislation passed, urging municipalities to pass new resolutions and flooding legislators’ offices with faxes urging them to vote yes on S494. Jose Quann, who runs the neighborhood health van for the Camden Area Health Education Center (AHEC) said that the legislation was needed to prevent HIV/AIDS in the most at-risk communities in New Jersey.
“The staff at Camden AHEC expect the state legislature to do the right thing and pass this bill so that we can save lives through one of the most proven methods of prevention for injecting drug users,” said Quann. The Camden Area Health Education Center is the organization that Camden City officials want to provide sterile syringe access services in Camden.
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.