Programs In Desperate Need As Funding Runs Out
Advocates Say Halt of Services Will Result in More HIV and Hepatitis C Infections and People Not Being Connected to Needed Drug Treatment and Social Services
Trenton—New Jersey’s Syringe Access Programs are running out of money and supplies needed to serve clients. The programs operate in five cities, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. The Paterson program had to suspend operations two months ago when it ran out of supplies and the Camden program will run out of supplies by the end of summer.
These programs help people protect themselves and others from HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. The programs provide people who use drugs with access to free sterile syringes and medical supplies, overdose prevention information and naloxone, basic medical care, HIV testing and counseling, as well as referrals to drug treatment and other social services.
Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed $95,000 for the programs from the state budget. But advocates and program staff say they are not giving up without a fight. “These programs are a critical component of New Jersey’s efforts to fight HIV and hepatitis,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocated for the passage of the law to allow for syringe access programs in New Jersey. “And now with the increase in opioid use their services are needed more than ever before. We’re going to do everything in our power to keep them going.”
Martha Chavis, executive director of the Camden Area Health Education Center, which runs Camden’s Syringe Access Program, emphasized the importance of the programs. “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 social services,” said Chavis.
In December of 2006, New Jersey enacted the Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which allowed for syringe access programs in the state. The passage of this 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.
The programs have been a resounding and unqualified success. Reports issued by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services in 2010 and 2012 found the programs to be effective, enrolling thousands of high-risk individuals, reducing the risk of HIV and hepatitis C transmission and acting as a bridge to drug treatment and other social services.
The programs also save New Jersey money. Lifetime HIV care for one person costs more than $600,000. A clean syringe costs about 10¢. Up to now, these programs have received small grants from private foundations, but funding is scarce and the programs have been struggling for years.
While the programs wait for the state to provide support, they are reaching out to their social networks and the public to raise some money to keep operating. South Jersey AIDS Alliance, which runs the Atlantic City’s syringe access program has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money.
“If New Jersey is serious about addressing the increased use of opioids and preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, the state needs to provide adequate funding to these programs which are working with the most at-risk individuals and communities,” said Scotti. “The programs shouldn’t have to set up a GoFundMe page.”