Measure Would Decrease the Spread of Blood-borne Diseases
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Loretta Weinberg which would allow pharmacies in New Jersey to sell hypodermic syringes and needles without a prescription was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 28-12.
“While New Jersey needs to do more to help State residents suffering from substance abuse fight their addiction, restricting access to sterile needles only succeeds in driving New Jersey’s illegal drug trade further underground, and leads to dangerous health practices, such as sharing needles,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Through this legislation, we’re not seeking to condone drug use or create a gateway to legalize otherwise illegal drugs. We’re trying to advance sound health policy which would reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and address a significant public health epidemic in the Garden State.”
“New Jersey is one of only two states in the entire nation where the sale of clean needles and sterile syringes is restricted under law,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “We have to look at this issue with an open mind, absent moral judgment, and recognize that what drug addicts need most in New Jersey is access to clean, safe needles and treatment to help beat their addiction. Obviously, drug crime would continue to be an illegal activity, but last I checked, substance abuse didn’t carry a mandatory death sentence, and as long as our laws continue to encourage addicts to swap needles, they’ll continue putting themselves at risk of catching a fatal disease in order to get high.”
The bill, S-958, would permit licensed pharmacies to sell hypodermic needles and syringes, as well as other instruments adapted for the administration of drugs by injection, to individuals without a prescription in the Garden State. Under the bill, a person would have to be over 18 years old to purchase sterile needles in a pharmacy, and would be limited to 10 or fewer needles per purchase. The supply of needles would be kept behind the sales counter, and pharmacists would, at the time of sale, provide people with information printed in English and Spanish concerning the safe disposal of needles, including local disposal locations or a telephone to call for that information, and information concerning substance abuse treatment, including a telephone number to all for assistance in obtaining treatment.
The bill would also amend current law so that individuals would be allowed to possess a hypodermic syringe or a needle without a prescription. The senators noted that the bill would also make it easier for individuals with diabetes to obtain syringes – currently, people with diabetes need a prescription to obtain syringes at the pharmacy.
“When New Jersey enacted needle exchange legislation sponsored by myself and Senator Vitale a few years back, we took a significant step forward to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Senator Weinberg. “However, through this legislation, needle exchange programs have only made an impact in five cities around the State. We need to recognize that substance abuse is a Statewide problem, not just confined to the five largest urban centers in the Garden State.”
“Not only does this bill have the potential to save lives and slow the spread of blood-borne diseases in New Jersey, but it would also reduce public health costs as well,” said Senator Vitale. “We pay an enormous societal cost to provide access to health care for individuals infected by HIV/AIDS or other diseases who were first exposed through intravenous drug use. It’s time to adopt smarter health care policies regarding substance abuse treatment, and that means providing access to addiction treatment as well as clean needles to slow the spread of blood-borne infections.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.