New Jersey Senate Health Committee to Vote on Bill to Make "Pilot" Sterile Syringe Access Programs Permanent and Provide Funding
Hearing to be Held This Thursday, June 7th in State House Annex, Committee Room 1 at 1PM
Public Health Advocates Tout Success of Programs and Urge Passage
of Life-Saving Legislation
Trenton—This Thursday, June 7th, the Senate Health, Human Relations and Senior Citizens Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2001, which would make New Jersey’s sterile syringe access programs permanent and appropriate $95,000 to fund the programs. It is vitally important that this legislation become law. The hearing will convene in Committee Room 1, on the first floor of the State House Annex, at 1pm. Senate Bill 2001 is sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).
In December of 2006, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which allowed for the establishment of up to six “pilot” syringe access programs in New Jersey. Programs have been established in Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. The passage of this life-saving legislation came after years of debate and study. And it came at a time when most other states already allowed some form of access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases.
These programs have been a resounding and unqualified success. A 2010 report by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services stated, “The program is off to an excellent start and serves a hard-to-reach population with tremendous promise in preventing the transmission of blood-borne pathogens.” At that time almost 5,000 individuals had accessed the programs and the services they offer. The news since then has only gotten better. To date:
- More than 10,000 participants have enrolled in the programs
- About 25% of participants were successfully enrolled in drug treatment programs
- Thousands have been referred to other medical and social services
- More than a dozen pregnant women were referred to drug treatment and three women had given birth to healthy babies by the time the report was released
- There was no increase in crime or improperly discarded syringes associated with the programs
Advocates for these programs predicted that they would not only reduce the risk of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases, but that they would also serve as a bridge to drug treatment and other social services. By the health department’s own evaluation, this has proven to be true.
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance, says, “These programs are saving lives and changing lives. Every time someone visits a syringe access program it is one less chance they will get HIV and hepatitis C and one more chance they will get access to drug treatment and other needed services.”
These programs are also saving New Jersey money. Jerome King, Executive Director of Well-of-Hope Community Development Corporation, which runs the syringe access program in Paterson, says, “Lifetime HIV care for one person costs more than $618,000. A clean syringe costs about 10¢. By funding New Jersey’s syringe access programs, the State will save lives and save money. There isn’t a better investment the State could make.”
Up to now, these programs have been funded by private foundations, but funding is scarce and all of these life-saving programs are hanging by a thread. Advocates say the time has come for New Jersey to make these programs permanent and to provide funding for their critically important services.
Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243