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 Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 6-2.
“While there’s no question that New Jersey needs to do a better job for the people in our State suffering from substance abuse, restricting access to sterile syringes only succeeds in driving drug use underground, and encourages dangerous health practices, such as sharing needles,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex and vice chair of the Senate Health Committee. “Allowing the sale of sterile syringes without a prescription does not condone drug use, but it does reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. It’s smart legislation which follows science to help address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Garden State.”
“New Jersey is only one of two states in the nation where the sale of sterile syringes is restricted,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and chair of the Senate Health Committee. “We have to look at this issue without moral judgment, and ensure that if people are addicted to intravenous drugs, that they can access clean needles and treatment to beat their addiction. This bill not only takes a common sense approach to help slow the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it also ensures that drug users know how to access treatment programs.”
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 drug addiction 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.
“A few years ago, New Jersey adopted legislation to create a needle exchange program, sponsored by myself and Senator Vitale,” said Senator Weinberg. “However, even though these programs have been successful in slowing the progress of HIV/AIDS infections, needle exchange programs are only set up in five cities in New Jersey. We have to recognize that drug addiction is a problem not just in urban areas, but Statewide, and by allowing pharmacies to sell clean needles, we can hopefully ensure that people are protected from the spread of blood-borne diseases.”
“This isn’t about judging individuals who are addicted to intravenous drugs, but about slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the State of New Jersey,” said Senator Vitale. “We pay an enormous societal cost for the treatment of uninsured individuals infected with HIV/AIDS or other blood-borne diseases, and many of those individuals were first exposed to those diseases through sharing needles. It’s time that we adopt smarter policies regarding the spread of these diseases, and at the same time, we can provide them with the information they need to get help with their addiction.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.