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Debate over Plan to Offer Clean Needles to Addicts in New Jersey
  Associated Press
Oct 24, 2004
Angela Delli Santi
Members of a New Jersey Senate committee have been listening to public testimony about two measures aimed at reducing IV drug users' risk of infection from blood-borne diseases, including HIV. One measure would authorize towns to create their own needle-exchange programs; the other would allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription. Earlier this month, the Assembly approved two similar measures and included in one $10 million for inpatient drug treatment.
The legislative debate was jump-started in part by Atlantic City's attempt to begin its own needle exchange program. That endeavor was struck down last month by a judge who found the city lacked legislative authority to begin the program. For the same reason, efforts to begin a needle-exchange program in Camden - which passed a law to authorize a program - also stalled. Gov. James E. McGreevey has sought to fast-track needle-exchange legislation into law before he leaves office on Nov. 15.
Of the 64,219 HIV/AIDS cases in New Jersey, 51 percent are related to IV drug use, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. There are 28,000 IV drug users in the state, the department said. But does giving sterile needles to drug addicts prevent HIV/AIDS infection, as needle-exchange proponents claim, or promote drug abuse, as exchange opponents suggest?
In 1994, when Baltimore began its needle-exchange program, the city recorded 602 new HIV cases, of which 61 percent were due to IV drug use, said Liza Solomon, director of Maryland's AIDS Administration. By 2002, new cases had dropped to 195, of which only 39 percent stemmed from IV drug use. Solomon cited the program as a key reason for the decline in new infections.
"The urban community wants to be off drugs, not given free needles," said State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex). "We should be opening our eyes and helping instead of turning our backs and killing the people we want to save."
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