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NJ Needle Exchange Gets First Legislative Test
  Associated Press, Sept 23, 2004
John J. McAlpin
Following years of delay, New Jersey legislators on Thursday approved bills to allow communities to operate needle-exchange programs and to permit small numbers of syringes to be sold over-the-counter in pharmacies. The measures will now go to the full Assembly for a vote. New Jersey is one of only two states with neither a legal needle-exchange program nor a law permitting sales of syringes without a prescription.
The needle-exchange bill would let municipalities decide if they want an exchange in their town. In addition, it would provide addicts with referrals to health-care providers and counseling.
In testimony before the Assembly Health Committee, Health Commissioner Clifton Lacy said, "We find ourselves at a critical point in the course of public health in New Jersey. We have the opportunity today to bring into our state proven methods of harm reduction and disease prevention." Last month, Gov. James E. McGreevey asked legislators to work with Lacy and draft a plan for needle exchanges. The governor hopes to see the measure cleared by the Legislature before Nov. 15, when he leaves office.
The city councils of Atlantic City and Camden this year passed laws to start needle-exchange programs, but these efforts were halted after the Atlantic City prosecutor sued to stop the program there. Camden leaders put their program on hold pending court review. Without specific authority from the Legislature, municipalities lack the power to launch exchanges, Superior Court Judge Valerie J. Armstrong ruled in a Sept. 1 decision.
One-third of New Jersey's 64,219 HIV/AIDS cases were transmitted through shared needles. The state's number of HIV/AIDS cases is the fifth-highest in the United States. New Jersey has the nation's third-highest number of pediatric AIDS cases; one-third of its HIV patients are females.
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