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NJ moves to end ban on over-the-counter syringes
 
 
  By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY
 
New Jersey, the last state with restrictions on access to syringes without a prescription, may be ready to end its ban in the name of AIDS prevention.
 
All other states allow over-the-counter sales of syringes in pharmacies or let drug users exchange used needles for sterile ones.
 
RELATED CHART: A state-by-state look at AIDS cases linked to drug use (SEE BELOW)
 
Now New Jersey may go along. A bill authorizing six cities to launch needle-exchange programs cleared the state Senate health committee last month, the furthest such a proposal has gone since a needle exchange bill was first introduced in 1993.
 
Political leaders, among them Gov. Jon Corzine, favor the needle-exchange proposal, which passed the state's lower house in previous years but never got anywhere in the Senate.
 
States began loosening restrictions on syringes after the AIDS epidemic emerged two decades ago and one route of infection was found to be needles shared by drug users. New Jersey was the last holdout after two states relaxed laws on syringes this year:
 
- In Massachusetts, the sale of syringes without prescriptions became legal last month under a law passed in July.
 
- Delaware legislators approved the state's first needle-exchange program in June. The five-year pilot program in Wilmington is to begin by early 2007. Over-the-counter sales of syringes are still prohibited.
 
Some still oppose idea
 
Of all the states, only New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Delaware, Kansas, Vermont and the District of Columbia require a prescription to buy syringes. All but New Jersey have needle-exchange programs run by the state or cities.
 
In New Jersey, 44% of all AIDS cases resulted from drug users sharing contaminated needles, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health policy. The national rate is 24%.
 
The percentage of new AIDS cases reported each year that are caused by drug needles has declined since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
In 2004, the latest year for which national statistics are available, 22% of new AIDS cases were caused by injection drug use, down from a high of 31% in 1993, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
 
In New Jersey, 14% of the 1,839 HIV/AIDS cases reported in 2005 were attributed to injection drug use, according to the state Department of Health. The low rate is the result of prevention efforts and a decline in needle use by younger drug abusers, says Fred Jacobs, the state health commissioner. Young users "are not so much shooting up anymore. Nevertheless, it's still a significant percentage" of new cases, he says.
 
A needle-exchange program would lower the rate further, he says.
 
The Senate committee approval "was a huge, huge step for New Jersey," says Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, which lobbies for needle exchange programs.
 
Then-governor Jim McGreevey signed an order permitting needle exchanges in three cities in 2004, but a court challenge killed it.
 
The idea still faces opposition, especially from state Sen. Ronald Rice, a Democrat from drug- and violence-plagued Newark.
 
"I'm not ever going to vote to give people a needle," Rice says.
 
He argues that exchanging needles supports the drug trade and the violent crime that goes with it.
 
"If you give somebody a needle, you need the substance for the needle, which means you have to go back to the same corners in Newark and Camden." Then, he says, "They're out there doing all the things they have to do to get the dollars to get the substance."
 
Proponents of needle-exchange programs argue that addicts show up to get needles but eventually accept other services.
 
"It's a bridge to treatment," Scotti says.
 
"They come for the syringes but they feel comfortable there. Needle exchange programs do thousands and thousands of referrals" to treatment programs, she says.
 
'Policy debate is over'
 
Studies of needle exchanges have found that they reduce HIV risk. Since 1994, when Baltimore began a needle exchange, the number of HIV cases attributed to injection drug use has dropped from about 60% of all cases to 41% in 2003, according to the Baltimore Health Department.
 
"The policy debate is over," says Scott Burris, a Temple University law professor who has tracked syringe-access laws for 10 years. "One after another, the states that made it hardest to get syringes, and therefore also tended to have the worst drug HIV problems, have all made it easier. There's still huge problems of scale and funding, because begrudging acceptance doesn't add up to an effective public health program."
 
There is no federal funding for needle-exchange programs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy opposes them. Its position is that the focus for AIDS prevention should be on stopping drug use through treatment.
 
Addiction "is a treatable disease," says David Murray, the agency's lead scientist. "Treatment should be our first choice, not sustaining people, not continuing to abet their ongoing drug use."
 
A state-by-state look at AIDS cases linked to drug use
 
USA Today, Updated 9/25/2006 6:38 PM ET
 
New Jersey is the only state that does not allow syringes to be sold over the counter or exchanged for clean ones as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure. It has one of the highest rates of infection from injected drug use. Here, by state, are the percentage of AIDS cases traced to injected drug use (cumulative through 2004), the states that allow over-the-counter pharmacy sales of syringes, and the states with needle exchange programs:
 
AIDS cases linked to drug use Allow syringe sales Has needle exchange Programs
 

AIDS-1.gif

states-2.gif

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts; Temple University Law School Project on Harm Reduction in the Health Care System; 2002 needle exchange program survey by North American Syringe Exchange Network and Beth Israel Medical Center; USA TODAY research by Martha T. Moore.
 
By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY
 
v New Jersey, the last state with restrictions on access to syringes without a prescription, may be ready to end its ban in the name of AIDS prevention.
 
All other states allow over-the-counter sales of syringes in pharmacies or let drug users exchange used needles for sterile ones.
 
RELATED CHART: A state-by-state look at AIDS cases linked to drug use (SEE BELOW)
 
Now New Jersey may go along. A bill authorizing six cities to launch needle-exchange programs cleared the state Senate health committee last month, the furthest such a proposal has gone since a needle exchange bill was first introduced in 1993.
 
Political leaders, among them Gov. Jon Corzine, favor the needle-exchange proposal, which passed the state's lower house in previous years but never got anywhere in the Senate.
 
States began loosening restrictions on syringes after the AIDS epidemic emerged two decades ago and one route of infection was found to be needles shared by drug users. New Jersey was the last holdout after two states relaxed laws on syringes this year:
 
- In Massachusetts, the sale of syringes without prescriptions became legal last month under a law passed in July.
 
- Delaware legislators approved the state's first needle-exchange program in June. The five-year pilot program in Wilmington is to begin by early 2007. Over-the-counter sales of syringes are still prohibited.
 
Some still oppose idea
 
Of all the states, only New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Delaware, Kansas, Vermont and the District of Columbia require a prescription to buy syringes. All but New Jersey have needle-exchange programs run by the state or cities.
 
In New Jersey, 44% of all AIDS cases resulted from drug users sharing contaminated needles, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health policy. The national rate is 24%.
 
The percentage of new AIDS cases reported each year that are caused by drug needles has declined since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
In 2004, the latest year for which national statistics are available, 22% of new AIDS cases were caused by injection drug use, down from a high of 31% in 1993, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
 
In New Jersey, 14% of the 1,839 HIV/AIDS cases reported in 2005 were attributed to injection drug use, according to the state Department of Health. The low rate is the result of prevention efforts and a decline in needle use by younger drug abusers, says Fred Jacobs, the state health commissioner. Young users "are not so much shooting up anymore. Nevertheless, it's still a significant percentage" of new cases, he says.
 
A needle-exchange program would lower the rate further, he says.
 
The Senate committee approval "was a huge, huge step for New Jersey," says Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, which lobbies for needle exchange programs.
 
Then-governor Jim McGreevey signed an order permitting needle exchanges in three cities in 2004, but a court challenge killed it.
 
The idea still faces opposition, especially from state Sen. Ronald Rice, a Democrat from drug- and violence-plagued Newark.
 
"I'm not ever going to vote to give people a needle," Rice says.
 
He argues that exchanging needles supports the drug trade and the violent crime that goes with it.
 
"If you give somebody a needle, you need the substance for the needle, which means you have to go back to the same corners in Newark and Camden." Then, he says, "They're out there doing all the things they have to do to get the dollars to get the substance."
 
Proponents of needle-exchange programs argue that addicts show up to get needles but eventually accept other services.
 
"It's a bridge to treatment," Scotti says.
 
"They come for the syringes but they feel comfortable there. Needle exchange programs do thousands and thousands of referrals" to treatment programs, she says.
 
'Policy debate is over'
 
Studies of needle exchanges have found that they reduce HIV risk. Since 1994, when Baltimore began a needle exchange, the number of HIV cases attributed to injection drug use has dropped from about 60% of all cases to 41% in 2003, according to the Baltimore Health Department.
 
"The policy debate is over," says Scott Burris, a Temple University law professor who has tracked syringe-access laws for 10 years. "One after another, the states that made it hardest to get syringes, and therefore also tended to have the worst drug HIV problems, have all made it easier. There's still huge problems of scale and funding, because begrudging acceptance doesn't add up to an effective public health program."
 
There is no federal funding for needle-exchange programs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy opposes them. Its position is that the focus for AIDS prevention should be on stopping drug use through treatment.
 
Addiction "is a treatable disease," says David Murray, the agency's lead scientist. "Treatment should be our first choice, not sustaining people, not continuing to abet their ongoing drug use."
 
A state-by-state look at AIDS cases linked to drug use
 
USA Today, Updated 9/25/2006 6:38 PM ET
 
New Jersey is the only state that does not allow syringes to be sold over the counter or exchanged for clean ones as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure. It has one of the highest rates of infection from injected drug use. Here, by state, are the percentage of AIDS cases traced to injected drug use (cumulative through 2004), the states that allow over-the-counter pharmacy sales of syringes, and the states with needle exchange programs:
 
AIDS cases linked to drug use Allow syringe sales Has needle exchange Programs
 
Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts; Temple University Law School Project on Harm Reduction in the Health Care System; 2002 needle exchange program survey by North American Syringe Exchange Network and Beth Israel Medical Center; USA TODAY research by Martha T. Moore.
 
 
 
 
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