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 Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The “Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act” established in 2006, authorized up to six municipalities, including 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.
“While prevention is our ultimate goal, we need to recognize that addiction is a disease and individuals who are in the fierce grip of drug abuse will continue to use, sometimes even as they undergo treatment,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Health Committee. “By providing permanent needle exchange programs, we can at least contain the rapid spread of disease among needle users by providing access to clean syringes.”
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.
“The spread of disease is a devastating side effect of shared needle use and is a threat to public health,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex, Passaic). “This bill aims to address that problem by allowing municipalities across New Jersey to operate sterile syringe programs in an effort to curb the spread of blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis C and to reduce long-term health care costs.”
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 Health Committee by a vote of 8-1. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.