TRENTON – Senator Nia H. Gill, D-Essex and Passaic, the prime sponsor of legislation enabling a sterile syringe access program to reduce the rate of infection of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users in New Jersey, issued the following statement regarding the bill’s approval in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 5-2, with one abstention:
“This year marks the 25th anniversary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and New Jersey is the only state in the nation that does not permit needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“Every medical, scientific and professional body to study the issue has concluded that access to sterile syringes reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS. Organizations which support sterile syringe access include the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health Consensus Panel and the AIDS Advisory Commissions of the first President Bush and President Clinton.
“For several years now, most states have chosen to allow at least some access to sterile syringes. New Jersey is the only state in the nation that does not allow access to sterile syringes as part of a larger program to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“Needle exchange programs have been able to achieve some significant results in cities and states where they have been given support. In New York City, for example, the rate of HIV among injection drug users was cut in half between 1992 and 2002. Such successes are a powerful indication of what could be achieved in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention with state support and leadership here in New Jersey. This is a devastating indictment of our state government’s refusal to provide that support and leadership.
“Needle exchange programs can save many lives.
“What is necessary to save our children and thousands of other men and women – particularly women, is for the state Legislature to take what are clearly needed steps to slow the spread of AIDS and HIV-related diseases.
“We must take the actions that are needed to save our children and their parents.
“Permitting municipalities to establish needle exchange programs is a step in the right direction.
“New Jersey has twice the rate of AIDS and HIV resulting from shared needle use as the country as a whole.
“This has put New Jersey at the top of a list of states throughout the country – the top of a list we don’t want to be on:
New Jersey has the third highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection among children in the nation – more than 7 out of every 10 of those children are African-American.
New Jersey has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection among women in the country – nearly two out of three of those women are African-American.
31,432 of our residents have died and left 22,000 of our children orphaned. At least 900 children have died.
The leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 is HIV/AIDS.
“As I mentioned, numerous studies and statistics have been cited in the debate over allowing needle exchange.
“I would suggest that these are not disputable and compel the state to act.
Every week for the past 10 years, 2 children in New Jersey have died from AIDS or HIV-related illnesses.
22,000 of our children have been orphaned.
“The rates of HIV/AIDS infection in New Jersey is at epidemic levels. It affects every race and every county in the state. It impacts our cities and our suburban and rural communities.
“Salem County has the highest proportion of women (51%) among adults/adolescents living with HIV/AIDS, followed by Essex County (41%), Passaic County (41%), and Monmouth County (40%).
“The cause is clear. New Jersey has twice as many infections caused by the shared needles of drug addicts than the rest of the country.
“New Jersey is the only state in the nation that bans needle exchange programs.
“While statistics don’t tell the human story of the impact of the AIDS epidemic, statistics do, however, draw a map for how we can combat the epidemic.
“Common sense tells us that if New Jersey has the highest rate of HIV and AIDS caused by intravenous drug use and 49 out of 50 states allow for needle exchange and have lower rates of infection than New Jersey – then New Jersey will reduce the number of cases of AIDS and HIV by allowing needle exchange.
“There is nothing so unique about New Jersey that would make us so different from New York, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Delaware – or any of the other states that allow needle exchange and have lower rates of illnesses.
“The groups that agree that we can mitigate this health epidemic are among the most respected in the country.
“What New Jersey is debating is agreed to by the NAACP, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Let me make clear that there could not be the support of these varied groups unless the issue before us was one of health care.
“Despite what anyone else wishes to argue, this is not a law enforcement issue. It is not a drug control issue.
“Numerous studies including those by the National Research Councils have found no evidence that needle exchange programs promote drug use.
“The state Legislature must take actions that are compelled by simple common sense.
“I respectfully suggest to my legislative colleagues that if there were any other cause of hundreds of deaths of children, thousands of deaths of women and the orphaning of tens of thousands of children – our Legislature would act on an emergency basis to reduce that cause.
“There are steps that we can take and I will continue to press for them in the Legislature.”