Camden, N.J., City Council Unanimously Approves Plan for Needle-Exchange Program
The Camden, N.J., City Council on Thursday unanimously adopted a plan to create a needle-exchange program in the city to help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. The vote came one day after Atlantic County, N.J., Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed a legal challenge against a similar plan approved last week by the Atlantic City Council. New Jersey is one of two states that neither permit needle exchanges nor have laws allowing the sale of needles and syringes without a prescription, according to the AP/Newsday (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/24). The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in May said that Atlantic City does not have the legal authority to start a needle-exchange program. Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash had discussed implementing a program through city-run mobile health clinics, saying that the city's authority to begin such a program was based on a 1999 amendment that exempts government agencies from a section of state law that criminalizes needle and syringe possession. However, Attorney General Peter Harvey (D) reviewed the law and determined that it allows government agencies to distribute needles and syringes only to people with prescriptions. Some advocates say that the program, which would cost approximately $70,000 annually, would save the state money because it would cost only about 25% of the price of treating an HIV-positive person for life (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/14).
Possible Legal Action
A spokesperson for Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said that he would review any needle-exchange ordinances passed by the council before deciding whether to take legal action (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/24). Camden Chief Operating Officer Randy Primas -- who has veto power over any measure passed by the council -- said he agrees with Harvey's ruling that needle-exchange programs are illegal, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. However, council President Angel Fuentes said that Primas has agreed not to take action before a meeting of a 12-member committee that has examined needle exchanges, the Inquirer reports. Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, chair of the committee, said that Camden has about 100 HIV-positive people, about 41% of whom contracted the disease through injection drug use (Ott/Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/25). Human Rights Watch on Friday in an open letter to New Jersey officials encouraged other municipalities to enact similar measures to ensure access to clean needles and syringes (HRW release, 6/24).