TRENTON – Senator Joseph F. Vitale, sponsor of a bill to legalize clean needle exchange programs, today said a State appeals court ruling blocking one in Atlantic City, heightens the need for his bill’s enactment.
“The longer we delay, the more lives we lose to dirty needles,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Our action in the Legislature will overcome this judicial blockade.”
The Appellate Division of Superior Court ruled that an Atlantic City ordinance establishing a needle exchange program was not valid without having a legislative exemption to the criminal code banning possession and use of drug paraphernalia passed into law.
Senator Vitale and Senator Nia H. Gill introduced their bill, S-1623, in June of 2004, to authorize municipalities to establish sterile syringe access programs, but it has remained lodged in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for lack of support.
Senator Vitale said he is not giving up on the bill.
“We have to provide a way to stop the children from dying in both the streets of our cities and in the bedrooms of our suburban enclaves,” Senator Vitale said. “No area of New Jersey is immune from the devastation of hard drugs and HIV infection.”
New Jersey has the highest rate of HIV infection among women in the nation, the third highest pediatric HIV rate and the fifth highest adult HIV rate, according to the Vitale-Gill legislation.
Under the bill, sterile syringe access programs would be run by local departments of health or a municipality could contract with an AIDS service organization, a substance abuse treatment program, a public health agency or a licensed health care facility.
Senator Vitale said sterile syringe access programs can greatly reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens while providing a bridge to drug abuse treatment and other social services for drug users.
“The sad reality is that too many people get their death sentences from sharing dirty needles before they get the help they need to clean up their lives,” Senator Vitale said.