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Syringe access expansion laws passed
by New Jersey Senate and Assembly
  January 10, 2022 - Today, the New Jersey Legislature passed far-reaching legislation, sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, to expand access to syringe services, which are essential public health tools to end the overdose crisis.
The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) will expand access to essential syringe access programs (SAP) throughout the state by removing the restrictive municipal ordinance requirement and aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) will decriminalize possession of syringes and allow for expungement of previous convictions.
According to the CDC, people who have access to syringe service programs are less likely to die from a fatal overdose, five times more likely to start a drug treatment program, three times more likely to stop chaotic drug use all together, and 50 percent less likely to acquire HIV and Hepatitis C than people without access. https://njharmreduction.org/syringe-access-expansion-laws-passed-by-new-jersey-senate-and-assembly/
Governor Murphy signs syringe access expansion bills into law
Jan 18 2022
Today, Governor Murphy signed into law far-reaching legislation to expand harm reduction services in New Jersey.
The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) removes authority to approve and close syringe access programs (SAPs) from local municipalities and places that authority with the New Jersey Department of Health, aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions.
By shifting authority from municipalities to the New Jersey Department of Health, this legislation effectively prevents the Atlantic City SAP, called the Oasis Drop-In Center and operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, from being closed by the Atlantic City Council. In July 2021, the Atlantic City Council voted to remove municipal approval from the SAP over the objections of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, local and statewide advocates, and the Murphy administration.
New Jersey was the last state in the nation with a legal pathway to syringe access. Syringe access programs (SAPs) are endorsed by the CDC, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, World Health Organization, and New Jersey Department of Health as a best practice to end the overdose crisis - yet, at the time of today's bill signing, only seven SAPs exist to serve New Jersey residents. If New Jersey had as many SAPs per capita as Kentucky, the state would have over 150.
Today's bill signing resulted from a growing movement to protect and expand syringe access in New Jersey. Over 150 public health experts and healthcare providers urged Governor Murphy and the New Jersey legislature to pass modernized syringe access legislation; New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition and Vital Strategies launched a public education campaign in support of harm reduction featuring billboards, social media ads, and an interactive website; supporters held weekly vigils outside of the Atlantic City Council office in support of syringe access; and a pro bono legal team sued Atlantic City to protect syringe services.
N.J. needle exchange programs, proven to reduce spread of HIV, will expand under new law
Updated: Jan. 18, 2022
More needle exchange programs designed to help drug users avoid disease and seek treatment will be allowed to open across New Jersey with the state Health Department's approval, under a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday.
State law has allowed needle exchange programs to provide drug users access to sterile syringes and allow them to dispose of them safely in an effort to prevent them from becoming infected with HIV or other illnesses. But that law, enacted in 2006, gave municipal officials the authority to permit or prohibit these programs from operating in their communities.
As a result, there are only seven private-run programs: in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton, according to the state Health Department website. In July, the city council in Atlantic City voted to disband the program, but operators and activists successfully challenged the ordinance and a judge has kept it open.
The new law, S3009, now gives the state health department sole authority to approve or terminate the exchanges, also known as harm reduction centers.
"The principles of harm reduction are simple. We must accept that there is drug use in our communities. Some ways of using drugs are more dangerous than other ways. We need to meet people where they are, rather than forcing on them some preconceived notion of what their life should look like," said state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a main sponsor of the bill.
"The signing of these bills into law will help us reinforce the truth that harm reduction policies are successful because they help us to meet people who use drugs where they are, without judgment."
The law now ends this legal battle in Atlantic City, the NJ Harm Reduction Coalition wrote in a tweet Tuesday morning. "The Oasis Drop-In Center operated by the @SJAIDSAlliance will be able to remain open, now that municipalities can no longer arbitrarily close lifesaving syringe services!"
A nurse serves with each syringe access team to conduct tests for pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, teach safer injection practices and arrange for medical and treatment referrals, the state website says.
The law also includes $5 million in state taxpayer money to support the centers and another $10 million for substance abuse treatment programs.
Murphy also signed a bill (S3493) that would decriminalize the possession of syringes in New Jersey and permits the expungement of syringe possession and distribution offenses. And he signed another measure (A798) that would create local overdose review teams to help better understand the circumstances that give rise to so many drug-related deaths.
Jenna Mellor, Executive Director of New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, called the new laws "a game-changer for people who use drugs and people at-risk of a fatal overdose." "Harm reduction is the best tool we have to end the overdose crisis," Mellor added. "I commend Governor Murphy and the bill sponsors for championing harm reduction and enacting policies that prioritize public health over punishment and stigma."
Needle exchange programs are associated with a 50% reduction in Hepatitis C and HIV infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


An estimated 3,081 New Jersey residents died from suspected drug overdoses last year, according to Murphy's announcement.
"While this was not a significant increase over 2020, it shows this crisis is ever-present and demands that we increase access to every service that is proven to save lives, starting with harm reduction," Murphy said in a statement. "These bills, coupled with the creation of local drug overdose fatality review teams, will strengthen our ability to save lives and further our commitment to ending the opioid crisis in New Jersey."
Jay Lassiter, a journalist and longtime advocate for the bill who was once an IV drug user, said the centers save lives by giving drug users "a better chance of recovery," while also saving local governments money.
"This is a very stigmatized population," Lassiter said. "It's very vulnerable, expensive population we're trying to protect."

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