TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Nia H. Gill that makes permanent a sterile syringe access program and allows municipalities statewide to operate a needle exchange program is now law.
“Needle exchange programs provide a social service with tremendous public health benefits. They are proven to substantially and cost-effectively reduce the spread of blood-borne disease among needle users and serve as a vital gateway to medical, treatment and recovery services,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Health Committee. “Allowing these programs to operate across all of New Jersey is important and will save lives. The additional funding that will be provided for the programs will also help to ensure their successful operation.”
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 law, S-1266, any municipality is authorized to operate such programs.
“Today ends over a decade-long fight to bring clean needles to all our citizens struggling with addiction. Sharing needles not only increases the risk of spreading infections like HIV and Hepatitis C, but is a threat to public health. Providing needle users with sterile syringes, appropriate disposal procedures, as well as information and education about drug use will promote safety,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “This law is a great step forward for New Jersey. It will afford other municipalities the opportunity to establish a needle exchange program, which is proven successful elsewhere in the state.”
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 prevention materials and services, referrals to treatment, and other medical, social, and mental health services.
According to the law, 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 will 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 approved by the Senate with a vote of 26-12, and the Assembly by a vote of 58-14-13. The law takes effect immediately.