Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243
Trenton — December 1st is World AIDS Day, and this year New Jersey HIV prevention advocates say there is truly something to celebrate. One year ago, the advocates were celebrating the passage of the Blood Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act which allows for six pilot syringe access programs. The Act was passed by the Senate and Assembly on December 11th, 2006 and signed by Governor Jon Corzine eight days later. Today advocates are celebrating the opening of the state’s first legal syringe access program in Atlantic City.
The program began operating on Tuesday, November 27 at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance’s drop-in center. The center provides free HIV testing and counseling and an array of other social services and referrals to drug treatment for individuals with substance abuse problems. The Atlantic City Health Department is working in conjunction with South Jersey AIDS Alliance on the project.
“This is a historic day in New Jersey in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey and a longtime advocate for syringe access. “Finally, New Jersey public health professionals have access to an incredibly powerful tool for HIV prevention. And the fact that the program is integrated into a holistic operation offering a full range of services means people can really get the help they need.”
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. Despite these statistics, New Jersey was the last state in the nation with no access whatsoever to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases.
“For years, the best evidence from around the world has told us this is what we should be doing to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but our hands were tied,” said Ronald Cash, Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Atlantic City. “This year we truly have something to celebrate in New Jersey for World AIDS Day.” Cash has long advocated for syringe access due to the high rates of HIV in Atlantic City–one in 31 African Americans in the city is living with HIV/AIDS.
Four cities (Camden, Atlantic City, Newark and Paterson) applied to start programs and were given approval by the state under the Blood Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act. Camden expects to get its program up and running in early January and Paterson and Newark hope to have their programs running shortly after that.
While advocates are celebrating this historical milestone, they are also calling on the legislature and the governor to mark World AIDS Day by passing legislation to allow for pharmacy sale of syringes without a prescription (S823/A2839). New Jersey is one of only three states to require a prescription to purchase a syringe in a pharmacy. The legislation passed the assembly last year when the Blood Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act passed, but it stalled in the senate health committee. Governor Jon Corzine has said he supports the legislation. “There could be no better way for the legislature and the governor to commemorate World AIDS Day than by passing this bill,” said Scotti. “Lame duck session is the time when the legislature finishes unfinished business. The senate needs to pass this bill and get it to the governor.