Harm Reduction: New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Bill

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine Tuesday signed into law the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which will allow up to six municipalities to establish needle exchange programs in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The measure passed both houses of the legislature last week, 13 years after attempts to pass such legislation got underway.

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Gov. Jon Corzine
Now, newspaper reporters will no longer have to use the boilerplate "New Jersey is the only state with neither needle exchange programs or access to needles without a prescription" when writing about AIDS in the Garden State. In addition to the needle exchange bill, the legislature this session also moved on a non-prescription needle sales bill, which passed the Assembly, but didn't get to a vote in the Senate. Proponents expect it to be on the agenda when the legislature gets back to work next year.

Corzine had previously supported the needle exchange bill and his signature was not in doubt. Under the new law, cities interested in starting needle exchange programs must pass an ordinance, and participants must be given referrals for HIV counseling and testing, drug treatment programs, and health and social services. Two cities, Atlantic City and Camden, have already passed such ordinances, and several others have expressed interest.

"Quite simply, this bill will save lives," said Governor Corzine in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. "The science is clear: Needle exchange programs have been proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment."

"Today ends New Jersey's dubious reign as our nation's only hold-out on progressive and common-sense policies that will save lives," said Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D-Camden). "Now we can begin to reverse our state's near-epidemic rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The needle exchange programs and enhanced access to addiction treatment we authorize today are a glimmer of hope to many who may otherwise have known only death and despair."

"Today we have taken responsibility to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in this state by making access to clean needles part of our comprehensive strategy to combat this public health epidemic," said Senator Nia Gill, (D-Essex), a Senate sponsor of this legislation.

New Jersey has the highest rate of cumulative HIV/AIDS cases among women, the third highest rate of pediatric HIV/AIDS cases, the fifth highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS cases and a rate of injection-related HIV infection that is nearly twice the national average.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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