As an effort to fight the opioid epidemic, acting Governor Sheila Oliver has announced support for a legislation sponsored by state Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle to amend current law to authorize the Department of Health (DOH) to establish harm reduction centers (HRCs) and syringe exchange programs.
According to the official site of the state of New Jersey, the announcement of support comes after a July vote by the Atlantic City Council to eliminate the city’s syringe exchange program. The Governor’s Office and DOH have been working on a solution that could preserve this evidence-based and life-saving service in Atlantic City.
Absent another viable solution that allows a syringe exchange operator in Atlantic City, the Murphy Administration fully supports a legislative solution that will also prevent a similar crisis in the future.
“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,” said Acting Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.
“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, ” stated Oliver.
A life-saver program
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.
“There has never been a more important time to embrace harm reduction,” said DOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
According to the CDC, individuals who use syringe access program are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who do not use the programs.
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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.
Accept drug use
“The principles of harm reduction are simple. We must accept that there is drug use in our communities, and that some ways of using drugs are more dangerous than other ways. We need to meet people where they are, rather than forcing on them some preconceived notion of what their life should look like,” said Senator Joseph Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“We need people who have lived with substance use disorder to inform these programs based on their experience and what has worked for them, rather than pretending we know exactly how they should run, having never walked a moment in their shoes. Harm reduction programs are about compassion first, without judgment.”