On Tuesday, October 21, an estimated 350 protesters gathered in Trenton for a march on the Capitol to protest New Jersey's policy outlawing needle exchange. The mothers, some who have lost children to injection-related AIDS, some who are caring for orphaned grandchildren or foster children and some who have themselves been infected, came from across the state to make their displeasure known to Governor Whitman and to New Jersey state legislators.
New Jersey has the third-highest rate of injection-related AIDS of any state in the nation, costing New Jersey tax payers millions of dollars per year. Needle exchange has been shown in study after study to reduce the spread of AIDS without measurably increasing the incidence of drug use.
In response to the Mothers' March, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman released a statement which said, "Illegal drug use is at the heart of the crimes that are committed in New Jersey. Providing drug addicts with the means to inject illegal drugs runs absolutely counter to everything we've done to bring crime down to a 23-year low in New Jersey." Adding that she "feels deeply for those parents who have lost children to AIDS. I feel just as deeply for children who have lost parents to AIDS because those parents were drug users."
Diana McCague, the director of New Jersey's (illegal) Chai Project needle exchange, who was recently convicted of violating state law for providing sterile syringes to addicts in New Brunswick, told The Week Online, "Governor Whitman is becoming more and more obtuse on this issue. It's obvious by her rhetoric that we're in the middle of a gubernatorial campaign since the provision of clean needles in no way increases crime, nor is the reduction in crime something she ought to be taking credit for since its happening all across the country. Unfortunately, it looks like she's going to win her race, and despite her protestations, the lives of her most vulnerable constituents are clearly not on her radar screen. Therefore, we'll just have to continue to find ways to work around her in order to reduce the spread of AIDS in New Jersey."
NOTICE: If you will be in or around New Jersey on October 28, you might consider attending a free community forum on HIV policy, drug use and needle exchange. The forum will be held on the campus of Rutgers University, from 1 to 3 p.m. and will feature Todd Summers, Deputy Director, White House Office of AIDS Policy, Diana McCague, Executive Director of the Chai Project needle exchange, Dr. Robert Heimer, Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, Mayor Martin Barnes of Patterson, Reverend Bryant Ali, of Broadway House in Newark and Joe Grace, an attorney from Philadelphia. For info, call Debra Lewis at (732) 932-1219, or e-mail her at [email protected].