New Jersey Assembly Set to Vote on Historic Syringe Access Legislation Tomorrow
Bi-Partisan Support Growing for Legislation as Advocates Declare that Opportunity Must Not Be Squandered
Trenton--Tomorrow, the New Jersey Assembly will vote on two historic bills that would increase access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. The bills, A3256 and A3257 would allow municipalities to establish syringe exchange programs by ordinance and allow for the sale of 10 or fewer syringes in pharmacies with a prescription. "People's lives are in the hands of the Assembly," said Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. "Our elected officials can reduce the spread of HIV and save taxpayers money by passing these important bills."
New Jersey is almost alone among states in allowing no access whatsoever to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases. Just two weeks ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a legislation that would allow pharmacy sale of 10 or fewer syringes without a prescription. California has had syringe exchange programs since the mid-1990s. New Jersey has the 5th highest number of adult HIV cases, the 3rd highest number of pediatric HIV cases, the highest proportion of women infected with HIV in the nation, and a rate of HIV related to sharing of dirty needles that is twice the national average.
Advocates declared that that the legislature must not squander this chance to act. "This is the closest such legislation has ever come to passing," said Scotti. "If the legislature fails to act now, people will continue to be infected with deadly diseases with no end in sight." Supporters have also emphasized that the legislation in not just about protecting injection drug users but also protecting those who come in contact with them.
The prospects for the legislation got brighter on last Monday, when Assemblyman Frank Blee (R-Atlantic County) agreed to co-sponsor the syringe exchange bill. At Appropriations Committee hearings on Monday, Blee said, "I do not think this is a partisan issue. It is not Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative. This crosses party lines. This is about people." Senator William Gormley, also a Republican from Atlantic County has indicated he will co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill. Gormley was quoted in the Press of Atlantic saying, "I like the tenor and the quality of the bill and the good will that's driving it. Assemblyman Blee and Roberts both ought to be equally proud. I think it's one of the finer moments in the Legislature."