Faced with Public Health Crisis, Mayor and City Council Agree to Proposal to Establish New Jersey
Atlantic City--City officials in Atlantic City revealed today that they are planning to establish a sterile syringe access program in the city to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. City officials have long been on record as supporting such a program. The Atlantic City City Council unanimously passed a resolution last year in favor of sterile syringe access. With its commitment to move forward with the establishment of its own program, the city could become the first in the state to have municipally ordained syringe access. City Council President Craig Calloway, who will introduce an ordinance creating the program said, "If we can save one person's life, in a sense we have saved humanity."
Atlantic City has the highest proportion of African Americans infected with HIV in the state, with 1 in 32 African Americans in the city living with HIV/AIDS according the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Sixty percent of all HIV infections in the city are causes by people sharing dirty needles. Until now, it was thought that municipalities did not have the legal authority to establish their own programs as cities in other states have done. But a legal memo prepared by the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey found that the city clearly had such legal authority.
The memo was independently reviewed by the City Solicitor for Atlantic City who agreed that the city has such legal authority. Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, applauded the city's move. "We thank the elected officials of Atlantic City for their leadership on this issue," said Scotti. "For too long we have fought the battle against AIDS with one hand tied behind our backs. Nothing the city could do would do more to protect the lives and health of the families and communities in Atlantic City. "
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. New Jersey is one of only 5 states that require a prescription to purchase a syringe in a pharmacy, and even in states that require a prescription to purchase a syringe, there are state or municipally mandated syringe access programs. "Anywhere needle exchange has been instituted, it's been successful," South Jersey AIDS Alliance Executive Director Keith Egan said. "There have been reductions in HIV transmission without increases in drug use."
Ronald Cash, Atlantic City's Director of Health and Human Services has been gathering information from health officials in Philadelphia, which has provided sterile syringe access services since 1991. Cash said, "The numbers are so clear. Needle exchange is a bridge to treatment. It saves money on health care and, most importantly, its saves lives."