New Jersey Governor's Panel Votes to Recommend Needle Exchange; Needle Exchangers Arrested for First Time in New Brunswick
The New Jersey Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS has voted to recommend that the state allow needle exchange programs and the nonprescription sale of syringes in pharmacies (Jennifer Preston, "Whitman Panel Urges Needle Exchange Program," New York Times, April 4, 1996, p. B8).
The panel, appointed by Governor Christine Todd Whitman to suggest policies to reduce the spread of AIDS, voted 19 to 5 with 5 abstentions to urge Whitman and the state legislature to support such programs. The Council also said that needle exchange workers should offer other kinds of health care support for intravenous drug users such as referrals to drug treatment, education and counseling, and HIV testing.
"There exists a large body of evidence demonstrating that syringe exchange and distribution programs have the capacity to protect significant numbers of people engaging in risk behavior," the recommendation said.
Council Chairman David W. Troast said that testimony the panel heard about needle exchange in New York and Connecticut convinced them that the policies are effective in curbing the spread of HIV. "That is compelling evidence to me," he said. "There is nothing that we can come up with as effective as a clean-needle program and the retail distribution of needles. Our executive order is to provide the Governor with the best advice we can give her. That's what we did."
Needle exchange and nonprescription sale of needles would need the support of the state legislature as well as the Governor since the state's drug paraphernalia laws would have to be changed. Whitman has publicly stated her opposition to needle exchange in the past and reiterated her opposition when the panel was deliberating its recommendations (see "Whitman Rejects Panel's Suggestions About Needle Exchange," NewsBriefs, March 1996).
Jayne Rabovich, a spokesperson for Whitman, said the panel's recommendation would not change the Governor's feelings about needle exchange. Rabovich said that although needle exchange might prevent transmission of AIDS, Whitman "feels that she has a much broader responsibility to not only prevent AIDS, but to prevent crime and promote public safety."
In other news about New Jersey needle exchange, police arrested two workers at state's most public exchange program, the Chai Project (Tom McGinty and Joseph Lee, "Needle-Exchange Program Raided; 2 Arrested," The Times (Trenton, New Jersey), April 19, 1996, p. A1).
Chai Project Founder Diana McCague and member Thomas Scozzare were arrested as they worked at the exchange in New Brunswick. The needle exchange program has exchanged over 32,000 syringes since 1994, but this is the first time that police have intervened.
McCague and Scozzare each face a disorderly persons charge, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. The Governor's office and the county prosecutor denied McCague's charges that the arrests were politically motivated. Volunteers said they would continue exchanging syringes despite the arrests. [The Chai Project is looking for legal defense funds.--EES]
[The Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS can be reached at CN 360, Trenton, NJ 08625, 609-984-7160. The Chai Project can be reached at P.O. Box 1470, New Brunswick, NJ 08903, 908-246-8884.]