Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C

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Second National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis Underway in Salt Lake City

Around a thousand people, including some of the nation's foremost experts in treating, researching and developing responses to methamphetamine use, gathered at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City as Science and Response: The 2nd Annual Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis got underway Thursday. Sponsored by the Salt Lake City-based Harm Reduction Project, the conference aimed at developing evidence-based "best practices" for responding to meth and emphasized prevention and treatment instead of prison for
meth offenders.

This year's conference was uncontroversial -- a marked change from the first one, also held in Salt Lake City, which was attacked by congressional arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) because presenters openly discussed the impact of meth on the gay community. Souder was also incensed that the US Department of Health and Human Services provided limited financial support for the conference, and authored a successful amendment to the appropriations bill funding the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy calling for an investigation of the conference and HHS policy.

"The fact that there is absolutely no controversy this year indicates more than just a leadership change in Congress. It shows that our approach -- bringing together all the stakeholders and families affected by meth -- is the right one," said Harm Reduction Project executive director Luciano Colonna in a statement on the eve of the conference.

While Colonna sounded sanguine in the statement above, he was less so as he opened the conference Thursday morning. Visibly choking up at times as he sounded the theme of this year's conference, "500 Days Later," he noted that since the first conference in August 2005, "thousands have died or been incarcerated." And Colonna could not resist a reference to Souder and ideological allies in Congress. "There's no need to mention the names of cheap mudslingers because their party lost," he said to loud applause.

"I'm tired of seeing meth users incarcerated because of failed theories and practices followed by many treatment providers, faith-based groups and other organizations," Colonna said. "We look to the criminal justice system to solve our problems, and its participation has been a result of our failure. Just as with the homeless, veterans, and the mentally ill, we have failed as a system of care and as a country. We have the audacity to attack the criminal justice system as if the strands of this mess can be separated out, but we are all culpable."

If Colonna wasn't going to name names, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson had no such compunctions. As he welcomed attendees to his city, Anderson hit back. "I will say Souder's name," Anderson proclaimed. "We shouldn't ever forget the people who caused so much damage. They don't care that needle exchange programs help injection drug users avoid HIV; they have the attitude that if people use drugs, they deserve what they get. People like Mark Souder would rather make political hay out of tragedy rather than having the integrity to deal with issues based on facts and research."

Citing drug use surveys that put the number of people who used meth within the last year at 1.3 million and the number who used within the last month at 500,000, Anderson pointed out that, "If it were up to Souder, they would all be in prison."

Mayor Anderson, a strong drug reform proponent, had a better idea. "Those numbers are the purest case for harm reduction," he argued. "We know there are people who will use drugs and we can reduce the harm, not only for them and their families, but for all of us. The current approach is so wasteful and cost ineffective. And thanks to you, treatment programs are much more available, but in too many areas, you have to get busted to get affordable treatment. It is time to make treatment on demand available for everybody," he said to sustained cheering and applause.

Given the topic of the conference, it is not surprising that attendees are a different mix than what one would expect at a strictly drug reform conference. While drug reformers were present in respectable numbers -- the Drug Policy Alliance in particular had a large contingent -- they are outnumbered by harm reductionists, treatment providers and social service agency workers. Similarly, with the event's emphasis on "Science and Reason," the panels were heavy with research results and presentations bearing names like "Adapting Gay-Affirmative, Evidence-Based Interventions for Use in a Community-Based Drug Treatment Clinic," "Stimulant Injectors From Three Ukraine Cities," and "The Impact of Meth Use on Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities for Youth in Canada."

The mix of interests and orientations led to some fireworks at the first conference, especially around the issue of stimulant maintenance therapy, or providing meth users with a substitute stimulant, such as dextroamphetamine, much as heroin users are prescribed methadone. Such issues may excite controversy again this year, but an opening day panel on the topic caused only a few raised eyebrows -- not any outbursts of indignation. The controversy is likely to come in Vancouver, where Mayor Sam Sullivan recently announced he wanted to implement an amphetamine maintenance pilot program with some 700 subjects.

With three full days of plenaries, panels, breakout session, and workshops, last weekend's conference not only provided information on best practices for educators, prevention workers, and treatment providers, but also helped broaden the rising chorus of voices calling for more enlightened methamphetamine policies. In addition, the conference pointed the Chronicle to a number of meth-related issues that bear further reporting, from the spread of repressive legislation in the states to the effort to expand drug maintenance therapies to stimulant drugs like meth and the resort of some states to criminalizing pregnant drug-using mothers. Look for reports on these topics in the Chronicle in coming weeks.

The Salt Lake Methamphetamine Conference Gets Underway

EDITOR'S NOTE: I tried to post this Friday morning from the Hilton in Salt Lake City, but due to some mysterious problem with the internets, it didn't get through. The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis is now in its second day. The Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City is doing an admirable job of dealing with the influx of treatment providers, social service workers, needle exchangers, speed freaks, drug company representatives, academics, researchers, and politicos who have flooded into the hotel for three days of plenaries, panels, workshops, and breakout sessions on various aspects of the methamphetamine phenomenon. For me, a lot of the sessions and presentations are of limited interest, which is not to say they have no value, only that they are directed at people who are doing the hands-on work in the field. As someone interested in drug policy reform and, frankly, legalizing meth and everything else, the differences in behavior or susceptibility to treatment between gay urban speed freaks and rural hetero speed freaks is not really that important to me. Ditto for comparisons of different treatment modalities. Again, I'm not saying this stuff is unimportant, only that it's not what I'm about. I'm much more interested in the politics of meth, the methods of blunting repressive, reactionary responses from the state, and the ways of means of crafting more enlightened policies. For all the progress we have made in the drug reform arena in the past decade or so, it seems like all someone has to do is shout "Meth!" and we are once again in the realm of harsh sentencing, repressive new legislation, and drug war mania reminiscent of the crack days of the 1980s. That's why it's so heartening to see political figures like Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson stand front and center for enlightened responses to meth use and abuse. Of course, it isn't just Rocky. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, state and local officials from the governor on down are attempting a progressive response, whether it's the governor lobbying for more money for treatment or local prosecutors practicing restorative justice. And it's not just Utah. Cut across the Four Corners into New Mexico, and you find another state where officials are rejecting harsh, repressive measures and instead seeking to educate youth and adults alike with evidence-based curricula. As one measure of the changing status quo, the Drug Policy Alliance is getting involved in the Land of Enchantment. It has been selected by the state government to administer a $500,000 grant to develop prevention and education curricula. I find it just a little bit ironic that I'm sitting in Salt Lake at this major meth conference just as SAMSHA puts out an analysis of national survey data showing that meth use is declining after about a decade a stable usage patterns. There was a significant drop in the number of new meth users between 2004 and 2005 and a steady decline in past year meth users since 2002. Despite all the hoopla, meth users now account for only 8% of all drug treatment admissions. Meth crisis? While there is no denying the social and personal problems that can and do result from excessive resort to the stimulant, it seems like there is less to it than meets the eye. Still, it has the politicians and funding agencies riled up enough to cough up money for programs and conferences and the like. I guess we'll take what we can get.
Localização: 
Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Film: "Rock Bottom: Gay Men & Meth"

A film by Jay Corcoran "Cautionary ...disturbing,...remarkably candor. [director] Jay Corocoran has never shied away from ...painful and political touchy aspects of gay male sexuality." --Steven Holden, New York Times "If you see one film on gay men and meth or if you haven't ever had the experience - see this film." --Luciano Colonna, Executive Director, the Harm Reduction Project ROCK BOTTOM follows the journeys of seven gay men struggling with meth addiction and recovery against a backdrop of an emerging second wave of HIV infection. From grappling with the drug's effects on their physical and mental health to wrestling with their darkest sexual desires, ROCK BOTTOM delivers a chilling portrait of a community in crisis. With an unflinching eye the film captures their stories over a two-year period, from sex clubs to hospitals to family gatherings. It takes enormous courage to face these demons, and even more to allow the world to watch. For anyone struggling with meth addiction, or anyone trying to help someone in trouble, ROCK BOTTOM will offer hope that change can happen, and insight into how change begins. For anyone thinking they can play with meth and not get caught up, the film will be a cautionary tale of how wrong they might be. *This film is graphic, and should not be viewed by people offended by nudity, sex, or frank talk about substance use* Call 801.355.0234 x6 for more information.
Data: 
Thu, 02/01/2007 - 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Localização: 
255 South West Temple Grand Ballroom A
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
United States

Op-Ed: It's time to end pointless war on drugs

Localização: 
OH
United States
Publication/Source: 
Zanesville Times Recorder (OH)
URL: 
http://zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070119/OPINION02/701190335/1014/OPINION

DPA Press Release: Democratic Majority Has Opportunity to Find Exit Strategy for Failed War on Drugs

[A press release from our friends at Drug Policy Alliance] Democratic Majority Has Opportunity to Find Exit Strategy for Failed War on Drugs Access to Treatment, Reduction of HIV and Drug Overdoses and Tackling Inhumane Mandatory Minimums Now Possible with “New Direction” Dems The Democratic takeover of Congress provides the best opportunity to reform our nation’s failed drug war policies in more than a decade, says the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Moreover, the takeover sets the stage for a showdown between Congress and the Bush Administration over federal raids on medical marijuana patients, military aid to Colombia, and numerous other White House drug policies. “Republicans have incarcerated millions of nonviolent drug law offenders and wasted tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, yet drugs are readily available and the harms associated with them continue to mount,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Democrats need to step up to the plate and prove to Americans that they can do what Republicans couldn’t do: reduce the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.” Over the last decade, Democrats in Congress supported efforts to reform punitive drug laws and expand opportunities for drug treatment at greater numbers than Republicans. For instance, 144 House Democrats voted earlier this year to prohibit the U.S. Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws (73 percent of voting Democrats). Only 18 Republicans supported the measure (just 8 percent of voting Republicans). 169 Democrats voted last year to cut funding to the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (more commonly known as “Plan Colombia”). Only 19 Republicans voted to do so. While former Republican committee chairs, such as Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI) and Rep. Mark Souder (IN), have been cheerleaders of draconian legislation, the new Democratic chairs in the new Congress are solid drug policy reformers. Many support reforming mandatory minimum drug sentences, legalizing medical marijuana, eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, diverting nonviolent drug law offenders to drug treatment, and lifting the ban on using federal money for syringe exchange programs. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, illegal drugs remain cheap, potent, and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse - addiction, overdose, the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, etc - continue to mount. The Drug Policy Alliance urges Democrats to set a “new bottom line” in the government’s approach to drugs and to not repeat the mistakes Republicans made. In a five-point agenda the Drug Policy Alliance offered Democrats advice on how to reduce the harm associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Five-point agenda --Hold hearings on the Bush Administration’s failure to protect the American people. President Bush has diverted law enforcement resources away from fighting drug cartels and terrorist cells to arresting medical marijuana patients, doctors, and low-level drug law offenders. His administration’s Reefer-Madness-like obsession with marijuana is largely responsible for our country’s failure to deal adequately with methamphetamine. And the Bush Administration’s radical crop eradication plans in Afghanistan and Colombia are driving poor families into the arms of our enemies, destabilizing those countries and boosting the efforts of those who seek to harm America. --Reprioritize federal law enforcement resources. Democrats should change federal law to prevent the Bush Administration from squandering scarce resources. Most notably, Democrats should prohibit the Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws. They also should raise the threshold amounts of drugs it takes to trigger mandatory minimum drug sentences, in order to encourage the Justice Department to target major drug traffickers. --Make treatment available to all who need it. The quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to undermine drug markets and reduce drug abuse is to make substance abuse treatment available to all who need it, whenever they need it, and as often as they need it. Democrats should increase federal funding for drug treatment (including the Bush Administration’s model voucher treatment program, Access to Recovery), establish policies that divert nonviolent drug law offenders to treatment instead of jail, and increase the number of people who can access substance abuse treatment through their health insurance. --Eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. The 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is responsible for immense racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system. Several Senate Republicans have already introduced a bill to reform the sentences —although the legislation does not go far enough. And President Bush indicated early in his Administration that he would be open to reducing the disparity. Democrats should work to pass bi-partisan legislation eliminating this disparity. --Enact legislation to reduce drug overdose deaths and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Annual drug overdoses have more than doubled under Republican rule, yet not a single federal dollar goes to overdose prevention. Similarly, the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases from the sharing of dirty needles continues to mount; but not a single federal dollar goes to syringe exchange programs. Democrats can save thousands of lives a year by creating a federal grant program to help cities establish overdose prevention programs and lifting the federal ban that prohibits using federal money for syringe exchange. Preventing America’s sons and daughters from dying is a winning issue. “For years Democrats have allowed Republicans to beat them up on drug-related issues. But now they have an opportunity to go on the offensive with a clear reform message that will really impress voters,” said Piper. “The Democrats can distinguish themselves from Republicans and show voters that they can solve complicated problems.” ### The New York Times January 9, 2007 Judges Look to New Congress for Changes in Mandatory Sentencing Laws BYLINE: By LYNETTE CLEMETSON; Sabrina Pacifici contributed reporting. SECTION: Section A; Column 1; National Desk; Pg. 12 LENGTH: 1361 words DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 Federal sentencing laws that require lengthy mandated prison terms for certain offenses are expected to come under fresh scrutiny as Democrats assume control of Congress. Among those eagerly awaiting signs of change are federal judges, including many conservatives appointed by Republican presidents. They say the automatic sentences, determined by Congress, strip judges of individual discretion and result in ineffective, excessive penalties, often for low-level offenders. Judges have long been critical of the automatic prison terms, referred to as mandatory minimum sentences, which were most recently enacted by Congress in 1986 in part to stem the drug trade. Now influential judges across the ideological spectrum say that the combination of Democratic leadership and growing Republican support for modest change may provide the best chance in years for a review of the system. ''With a changing of the guard, there should at least should be some discussion,'' said William W. Wilkins, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. The House Judiciary Committee, under the new leadership of Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, is planning hearings on the laws, starting later this month or in early February. One of the first issues planned for review is the sentencing disparity between offenses involving powder and crack cocaine. The possession or trafficking of crack brings much harsher penalties than those for similar amounts of the powder form of the drug. Mr. Conyers, a longtime critic of mandatory minimum sentences, favors treating both drugs equally. The Senate Judiciary Committee has no immediate plans for hearings. But Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, also supports some changes in the sentencing policy for crack cocaine convictions (though more modest than Mr. Conyers and some other Democrats favor), and Judiciary Committee staff members say a serious Senate review of the issue is likely in the current Congress. Many law enforcement officials support tough, automatic sentences and argue that weakening existing laws will cause an increase in drug trafficking and violent crime. Many judges say current laws have clogged jails and too often punish low-level offenders. Some judges also argue that automatic lengthy sentences give prosecutors an unfair bargaining tool that they can use to tailor charges and press defendants into plea bargains. ''These sentences can serve a purpose in certain types of cases involving certain types of offenders,'' said Judge Reggie B. Walton of Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, who was appointed by President Bush, ''but when you apply them across the board you end up doing a disservice not just to individuals but to society at large.'' Several judges say that broad inclusion in the coming Congressional hearings on sentencing would mark a notable departure from Judiciary Committee activity under the former Republican chairman, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, who many judges say maintained an antagonistic stance toward judges. ''There was no question that judges were targeted under the Sensenbrenner committee for speaking out,'' said Judge Nancy Gertner, a Federal District Court judge appointed by President Bill Clinton who teaches a course on sentencing policy at Yale Law School. Judge Gertner and others point to the example of Judge James Rosenbaum, a Reagan appointee who, in 2003, faced a Congressional review of his sentencing decisions under a barrage of criticism that he and other federal judges were too lenient. Many in the judicial community argued that Judge Rosenbaum was singled out because he criticized a proposal to increase federal sentences in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Most judges shy away from direct formal involvement in legislative matters. But many say private interactions with legislators that do not focus on specific cases but on policy matters of concern to the judiciary are appropriate. Judge Wilkins, a former legislative assistant to Senator Strom Thurmond, said he believed private conversations on mandatory minimum sentences with his own congressman, Representative Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, helped change the legislator's position. Mr. Inglis, once a supporter of tough automatic sentences, said during a 1995 House vote that he would never vote for them again and has since become a Republican leader on sentencing reform. ''I was delighted that he took a principled stand, and I would like to think I was of some benefit to him in getting there,'' said Judge Wilkins, who served as the first chairman of the Federal Sentencing Commission, the body charged by Congress with developing sentencing guidelines and collecting and analyzing statistics. Some judges have expressed displeasure with the system from the bench or in written opinions. At a sentencing last January Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., of the Western District of Texas, was required to add 10 years to the already mandated 10-year sentence in a crack distribution case because a gun was found under the defendant's bed. During the sentencing, the judge stated, ''This is one of those situations where I'd like to see a congressman sitting before me.'' In an impassioned written opinion in 2004, Judge Paul G. Cassell of the Federal District Court in Utah, who was appointed by President Bush, called the mandatory 55-year sentence he was forced to give a low-level marijuana dealer who possessed, but did not use or brandish, a firearm ''simply irrational.'' In the opinion, Judge Cassell recommended a commutation of the sentence by the president, noting that the sentence, with consecutive 25-year terms for firearm possession, was longer than those required for an airport hijacker, second-degree murderer or a rapist. The Supreme Court declined last fall to hear the case. But an amicus brief urging the court to take the case included signatures from legal figures like William Sessions, the former F.B.I. director; Janet Reno, attorney general during the Clinton administration; and Griffin Bell, attorney general under Jimmy Carter. Many opponents of mandatory minimum sentences would like to see a full repeal of the laws. ''After so many years of this, people have forgotten that we should be asking for the whole fix, not just little pieces,'' said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. But most legal, legislative and judicial experts agree that repeal, or even broad-ranging overhaul of existing laws, is unlikely. More probable is serious review of crack cocaine sentencing laws. Currently, possessing five grams of crack brings an automatic five-year sentence. It takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to warrant the same sentence. Similarly disparate higher amounts of the drugs results in a 10-year sentence. The 100-to-1 disparity, opponents of the law say, unfairly singles out poor, largely black offenders, who are more likely than whites to be convicted of dealing crack cocaine. At a sentencing commission hearing in November, Judge Walton, associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the first President George Bush and a onetime supporter of tough crack cocaine sentences, said it would be ''unconscionable to maintain the current sentencing structure'' on crack cocaine. Mr. Sessions is a co-sponsor of a bill that would change the ratio for the two drugs to 20 to 1, increasing the amount of crack that brings a five-year sentenceto 20 grams from 5, and lowering the powder cocaine trigger from 500 grams to 400 grams. If judges say they are hopeful for new debate on sentencing policy, they are quick to add that they are not naive. After all, many say, even politicians who are critical of current laws fear looking soft on crime. ''Candidly, the Democrats were never particularly courageous on this issue either,'' Judge Gertner said. ''But at least now it seems judges may be encouraged to be a part of the discussion. And if asked to speak up, I think many will.''
Localização: 
United States

Needle exchange bill again introduced in legislature

Localização: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Bay Area Reporter (CA)
URL: 
http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=1476

Minister drops in at injection site

Localização: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
Publication/Source: 
The Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=24207915-c1ea-4e48-b69d-38866d2d39aa

The Effectiveness of Syringe Exchange as an HIV Prevention Strategy

For this partners' forum, the Global Health Council will bring together experts working on or knowledgeable about HIV prevention through syringe exchange. We will hear both from advocates for syringe exchange and from those who oppose it. This forum will examine evidence of the impact of these programs on HIV transmission and drug use. We will additionally examine the barriers to implementing and scaling up this prevention approach, especially in US programs overseas. Speakers Include: * Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health * Mathea Falco, President, Drug Strategies * Monica Ruiz, Ph.D., MPH, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research Moderator: Maurice Middleberg, Vice President, Global Health Council Dec. 7, 2006 12:30 - 2pm Global Health Council 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 1120 Washington, D.C.
Data: 
Thu, 12/07/2006 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Localização: 
United States

Substance Abuse, Criminal Justice and HIV in African Americans: Research Development Workshop

Substance Abuse, Criminal Justice and HIV in African Americans: Research Development Workshop December 11-12, 2006 Hilton Silver Spring Silver Spring, MD Sponsored by: Special Populations Office, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), SAMHSA Welcome! The Special Populations Office, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) are holding a workshop on December 11-12, 2006, to address the unique concerns that arise when conducting research in criminal justice populations and systems. This workshop is part of a NIDA initiative to address the disproportionate occurrence of criminal justice involvement and HIV/AIDS among African Americans as a consequence of substance abuse. NIDA released two program announcements in 2005 (Drug Abuse as a Cause, Correlate, or Consequence of Criminal Justice Related Health Disparities among African Americans (R01), and Health Disparities in HIV/AIDS: Focus on African Americans (R01) to encourage research on these issues. Grants development training will also be offered. NIDA and SAMHSA are pleased to invite scholars from underrepresented racial/minority populations and others involved in research in this area to attend the workshop and grants development training sessions. Who should attend? NIDA and SAMHSA are pleased to invite scholars from underrepresented racial/minority populations and others involved in research that focuses on substance abuse, criminal justice and/or HIV. Additional invitees include: * New, early and established career investigators. * Administrators and providers who are responsible for substance abuse prevention and treatment services. and/or other services and policies affecting persons under criminal supervision. * Faculty and staff providing training or instruction on substance abuse and/or criminal justice programs. * Faculty and staff from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority institutions are encouraged to attend. Workshop Details: Workshop Begins: 8:30 a.m., Monday, December 11, 2006 Workshop Ends: 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, December 12, 2006 Hotel and Workshop Location: Hilton Silver Spring, 8727 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Maryland Registration Deadlines: Workshop Registration: November 21, 2006 Hotel Registration: November 21, 2006 For complete details: http://www.encoreinc.com/conferenceRegistration/index.cfm/myConferenceUU...
Data: 
Mon, 12/11/2006 - 8:30am - Tue, 12/12/2006 - 5:00pm
Localização: 
United States

Harm Reduction: New Jersey Needle Exchange, Needle Access Bills Advance

A bill that would allow up to six New Jersey municipalities to set up needle exchange programs and a companion bill that would permit the sale without prescription of up to 10 syringes at pharmacies passed the Assembly Health and Senior Citzens Committee Thursday. After more than a decade of efforts to win legislation that would allow drug users easier access to clean needles, it now appears the bills have momentum.

New Jersey politicians have begun lining up behind the bills. Before testimony at the committee Thursday, Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) said bluntly, "This bill is going to pass." Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts and Gov. Jon Corzine have stated publicly they intended to legalize syringe exchange as soon as possible.

During testimony, state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz told lawmakers they needed to act now. "We should not be delaying another minute in putting life-saving tools such as syringe exchange programs in the hands of communities desperate to stop the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and AIDS," he said. "Syringe exchange programs not only prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases but also help drug addicts get into treatment.''

The Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office has been lobbying for the bills for several years now. "We're incredibly grateful for such a resounding vote of support on the part of the committee members," DPA's Roseanne Scotti told the Associated Press after the vote.

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