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Senator Vitale

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Nia H. Gill that would make permanent a sterile syringe access program and allow municipalities statewide to operate a needle exchange program was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

“Individuals who are injecting drugs aren’t considering the risks of blood-borne disease as they feed their addiction,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Health Committee. “By providing permanent needle exchange programs across New Jersey, we can at least slow down the spread of disease among needle users by providing access to clean syringes.”

The “Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act” established in 2006, authorized six municipalities – Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson – to operate needle exchange programs. Under this bill, S-1266, any municipality is authorized to operate such programs.

“Sharing needles contributes to increased spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and is a threat to public health,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex, Passaic). “This bill would not only allow municipalities statewide to operate sterile syringe programs, which have proven successful where they’ve been implemented, but it also provides a pathway for recovery services to those who participate.”

Sterile syringe access programs are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes free of cost and facilitate safe disposal of used needles and syringes. Most programs offer other prevention materials and services, and referrals to treatment programs and other medical, social, and mental health services.

According to the bill, any rules or regulations adopted by the Health Commissioner to implement the program are to be consistent with existing ones governing the pilot program. Additionally, the Commissioner would be required to annually prepare a detailed analysis of the various needle exchange programs being undertaken in the State and report the results to the Governor, the Governor’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and Related Blood-Borne Pathogens, and the Legislature.

In January 2016, Congress ended a decades-long ban on federal funding for needle exchanges, which allow drug users to get free sterile needles to help prevent the spread of disease. Although the change would not allow federal dollars to go towards buying needles themselves, it would support other programs costs such as staff salaries and counseling services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals who inject drugs can substantially reduce their risk of getting and transmitting HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne infections by using a sterile needle and syringe for every injection.

The bill was released from the Senate Budget Committee and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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