Your town would be allowed to implement a needle exchange program under a bill approved yesterday by the State Senate Health Committee.

The measure would make permanent the ‘Blood-borne Disease Harm Reduction Act,’ a 2006 law that created a needle exchange pilot program for six municipalities in the state. The bill would allow any municipality throughout New Jersey to operate such a program.

State Senator Joe Vitale, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee and sponsor of the bill says, “The sad reality is that too many people catch sometimes-fatal diseases from sharing dirty needles before they get the help they need to clean up their lives. HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases are almost completely preventable in this day and age as long as people are aware of the risk factors and of the ways to prevent spreading them. A needle exchange is an imperative component of reducing transmission rates.”

The 2006 law allows towns to operate needle exchange programs directly or to contract with an AIDS service organization, a substance abuse treatment program, a public health agency or a licensed health care facility. A municipality’s syringe access program must provide sterile syringes and needles at no cost to consumers 18 years or older; offer information about the prevention of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens; provide referrals for HIV testing and drug abuse treatment programs; and collect data regarding the program. Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson are all currently operating needle exchanges through the program. In 2011, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, these programs dispensed 1.1 million clean needles.

Roseanne Scotti, Drug Policy Alliance state director says, “I think that any community, any municipality who wants to implement this program should be allowed to implement this program and that’s what this bill is about.”

State Senator Ron Rice from Newark was one of, if not the most vocal opponent of the 2006 law and nothing has changed his mind. He says, “I still oppose giving out needles, you know, I oppose giving out needles…..There hasn’t been any real benefit to it that you can measure contrary to what people are saying….Nobody has measured it out. I know I still have a lot of junkies in my area.”

“The pilot program has had great success in helping to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases by providing intravenous drug users with safe and sterile needles and providing access to rehabilitation programs, with 25 percent of participants enrolling in drug abuse treatment programs,” says Vitale who is also a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and Related Blood Borne Pathogens. “I am pleased that we are able to make this program permanent and to allow all municipalities throughout New Jersey to establish needle exchanges.”

The bill which would appropriate $95,000 to the Department of Health and Senior Services to implement the program now heads to the full Senate for consideration.