Newsbrief: Camden Opens Second Front in New Jersey Needle Exchange Rebellion 5/28/04

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Camden on Tuesday became the second New Jersey city to announce plans to conduct a needle exchange program (NEP) in defiance of law enforcement officials. As DRCNet reported last week, Atlantic City recently announced its intention to operate such a program, prompting opinions from local prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz and New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey that state law does not allow municipalities to engage in NEPs.

Camden waterfront
Needle exchange has been shown to reduce the rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infections in injection drug users. Although New Jersey has the nation's fifth-highest rate of HIV infection, with more than half of new infections associated with shooting dope, it is one of only five states that requires a prescription to purchase a needle and, along with neighboring Delaware, one of two that has not passed laws allowing NEPs.

But Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) found an obscure provision of a 1999 criminal code revision that included government entities (such as municipalities) among those groups exempted from the laws regulating the distribution and possession of syringes. While Scotti's reading of the law has been backed up by city attorneys in Atlantic City and Camden, as well as needle exchange law experts, Atlantic County Prosecutor Blitz and Attorney General Harvey disagree.

Camden isn't waiting for the lawyers. At a city council meeting Tuesday, the council voted to approve a first reading of an ordinance that would establish a NEP in Camden. Introduced by Councilman Ali Sloan-El, the ordinance would place the program under the city Department of Health and Human Services. The department would supervise two programs, one at a facility run by the AIDS Coalition of South Jersey, the other a mobile program operated by the Camden Area Health Education Center.

Sloan-El told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Camden suffered from an epidemic of HIV and and Hepatitis C due to the sharing of contaminated needles and that providing clean ones was necessary. "We feel it is a human service," he said. "We're trying to cut the spread of AIDS."

While officials in both Atlantic City and Camden have expressed a willingness to go to court over the issue, state Sen. Nia Gill has provided one possible alternative. In response to Attorney General Harvey's opinion that city-operated NEPs were illegal, Gill has filed a bill that would make their legality explicit.

After years in the cold with Republican Gov. Christine Whitman, a passionate opponent of needle exchange, drug reformers hoped Democratic Gov. James McGreevey would be more amenable to the idea of NEPS. But while McGreevey has said he supports NEPS, he qualified that by adding only in hospital-based drug-rehab programs. There are none in New Jersey. Relief could come through the courts or through the legislature via the Gill bill. In the meantime, more than 30,000 needle-sharing New Jerseyites are getting HIV each year.

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Issue #339, 5/28/04 Editorial: Judge the System | California Senate Votes to Bar Random Drug Tests in Schools | DRCNet Interview: Frank Fisher, MD | Medical Marijuana Minds Gather in Charlottesville | Federal Appeals Court Upholds Oregon Assisted Suicide Law -- DEA Threats to Prosecute Hindered Pain Control | Newsbrief: Camden Opens Second Front in New Jersey Needle Exchange Rebellion | Newsbrief: Needle Exchange Comes to Paraguay | Newsbrief: Ohio Man Deported for Minor Marijuana Conviction Found Murdered in Brazil | Newsbrief: Life for Meth | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Kentucky Prosecutor Offers to Drop Charges in Return for Sex -- X-Rated Romp Caught on Video | Newsbrief: Supreme Court Expands Police Search Powers Again -- Cops Can Now Search Parked Cars Incident to Arrest | This Week in History | Media Scan -- Too Many to List in the Headline This Time! | 3rd Annual Drug War Vigil Film Festival and Contest | Job Opportunities at MPP | Job Opportunity: Campaign Coordinator for Marijuana Policy Reform, ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project | The Reformer's Calendar
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