NEW JERSEY – Acting Governor Sheila Oliver Thursday announced support for legislation (S3009) sponsored by state Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle to amend current law to authorize the Department of Health (DOH) to independently establish harm reduction centers (HRCs) and the operation of syringe exchange programs.
The legislation would also eliminate municipal authority to shutter syringe exchange programs, further strengthening the availability of evidence-based, public health services for vulnerable individuals.
The announcement of support follows a July vote by the Atlantic City Council to eliminate the city’s syringe exchange program, a decision that is expected to take effect this fall. Since the vote, the Governor’s Office and DOH have been steadfast in the commitment to finding a solution that will preserve this evidence-based and life-saving service in Atlantic City.
Absent another viable solution that allow a syringe exchange operator in Atlantic City to continue serving as many individuals as possible in need of services, the Murphy Administration fully supports a legislative solution that will also prevent a similar crisis in the future. Earlier this year Governor Murphy raised alarm about the recent increase in drug use and opioid-related deaths due to the pandemic.
“As we experience a rise in drug use and overdose deaths nationally and in New Jersey due to the pandemic, we must confront this public health issue head on by securing access to sterile needle exchange services in our state,” Acting Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs said. “I call on our legislators to prioritize this issue and send a bill to the Governor’s desk to sign as soon as possible when they reconvene this fall so that we can keep people out of harm’s way and continue to work toward addressing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS in New Jersey.”
“There has never been a more important time to embrace harm reduction,” DOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “There is a lot of misunderstanding among the public about harm reduction and unfortunately it deepens the stigma that prevents vulnerable individuals from accessing critical, life-saving health services. A legislative solution is the only one that can preserve access to these services throughout the state, bring New Jersey in line with national best practices, and make strides towards the Murphy Administration’s goal to end the HIV epidemic and opioid crisis.”
“Harm reduction centers are vital to our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and connect people to treatment,” Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “We have been providing medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction at the Atlantic City site, for instance. These programs offer life-changing help in a safe environment for individuals struggling with addiction. As we continue to focus on removing barriers to treatment and meeting treatment needs, we must continue to work to make it as easy as possible for people facing addiction to find help that has been proven effective. Preserving and expanding access to harm reduction centers – and harm reduction in general – is a smart approach.”
HRCs provide life-saving services to individuals at risk of overdose and prevent the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases like hepatitis. Decades of research and national health and medical experts, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Medical Association, endorse needle exchanges as effective tools to save lives, ensure proper disposal of used syringes, and connect individuals to treatment. According to the CDC, individuals who utilize syringe access program are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.
In addition to strengthening access to treatment and recovery supports, expanding harm reduction services including syringe exchanges, are a critical component of Governor Phil Murphy’s comprehensive, data-driven strategy to combat the opioid crisis. The Murphy Administration looks forward to collaborating with legislative partners, harm reduction and HIV advocates, and the public health and medical community to address this critical issue.