Needle exchange programs need to expand, lawmakers say

Lilo Stanton | October 13, 2020 | NJ Spotlight |

 

Bill would create ‘harm reduction’ sites, allow state more control on placement

New Jersey now has seven needle exchange programs, although some have struggled to maintain a full schedule during the pandemic. These sites distribute clean needles to intravenous drug users, provide public health information, and serve as a conduit to other health and social services. The legislators also want to replace the historic terms “syringe access” and “needle exchange” with the more current “harm reduction.”

“New Jersey needs to get serious about addressing the clear gaps in our public health infrastructure that leave our loved ones battling addiction without the resources that they need to lead healthy lives,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who sponsored the bill with Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), a longtime advocate for these programs, and Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth).

Addiction and overdose numbers have continued to rise since the syringe access program was first established in New Jersey in 2006 and, while drug-related deaths had begun to level off, rates have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lawmakers noted. To build support for the proposal, Vainieri Huttle and Vitale plan to join the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition for an online event Tuesday with health care and policy experts and individuals impacted by addiction.

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