End date is approaching — can advocates save needle exchange in Atlantic City, NJ?
ATLANTIC CITY — One of just a handful in the Garden State, a needle exchange program operating on Tennessee Avenue in Atlantic City is expected to stop operating in the middle of October.
The South Jersey AIDS Alliance, which has been providing the service since 2007, is hoping to extend the expiration date or get rid of it altogether.
"The next closest syringe access program is in Camden, which is well over an hour away by car," Carol Harney, Alliance CEO, told New Jersey 101.5. "There are no other services like this in our area."
Harney fears that scrapping the program will lead to a greater number of overdoses in the city, and increased levels of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases, since more individuals will be forced to share needles for drug use.
"We always have hope that the city will recognize the value of our program," Harney said. "We have reached out to the city asking to set up meetings with them and we've gotten no response."
New Jersey 101.5 reached out to members of City Council for comment but received no response.
City Council voted in late July to repeal a city ordinance that granted permission for a syringe access program. When the new ordinance was introduced, council members voiced concerns about individuals from others towns traveling to Atlantic City to use the social service.
The service is carried out at the Oasis Drop-In Center, which also refers people to drug treatment and offers tools related to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
The operation has the support of the state health department and Gov. Phil Murphy. The Murphy administration in August voiced its support for legislation that would authorize the New Jersey Department of Health to independently establish harm reduction centers and the operation of syringe exchange programs. The legislation would also eliminate municipal authority to shutter syringe exchange programs.
“The Administration continues to explore solutions that will preserve syringe access in Atlantic City," Alyana Alfaro, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office, told New Jersey 101.5. "In the event that a viable solution cannot be found, we will support legislation to ensure that harm reduction centers are protected and expanded statewide.”