Historic Court Case: State of New Jersey vs. City of Atlantic City in Challenge to City
When: Friday, August 13, at 1:30 PM
Where: Atlantic County Courthouse, Room 3A, 1201 Bacharach Blvd., Atlantic City
This Friday a superior court judge, Valerie H. Armstrong, will hear oral arguments in the historic case of State of New Jersey v. City of Atlantic City. The judge will decide if the City has the legal authority to establish a sterile syringe access program to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases. The case was initiated by the Atlantic County Prosecutor, Jeffrey Blitz, in response to the passage of an ordinance by city officials which would create a sterile syringe access program to be run by the city's Department of Health and Human Services. One in 40 residents of Atlantic City is infected with HIV and sixty percent of those infections are the result of shared contaminated needles. The figure for African Americans is even higher, with one in thirty-two infected with HIV.
"It is a tragedy that the state is putting its money and energy into trying to stop the Atlantic City officials from saving lives," said Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. "The Mayor and City Council have taken the lead on this critical public health issue which the state has been unwilling to address." Every medical, scientific and professional organization to study the issue has concluded the sterile syringe access reduces the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases without increasing drug use.
The Atlantic City City Council passed the ordinance on June 16th, and Mayor Lorenzo Langford signed it several days later. On June 23rd, county prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed a complaint in Atlantic County Superior Court challenging the ordinance. Blitz contends the ordinance is inconsistent with the state's drug paraphernalia law. The attorney for the city, Robert Sandman of Hankin, Sandman, Bradley & Palladino has argued that the ordinance is not in conflict with the state law, and that municipalities are explicitly exempted from the restrictions on possession and distribution of syringes.
Ronald Cash, Atlantic City's Director of Health and Human Services who has led the fight for the creation of the program 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."
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.