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July 31, 2007

NJ Needle Exchange Arrives—With Empty Pockets

The state of New Jersey approved needle exchange pilot projects this morning in four HIV-ravaged cities: Atlantic City, Camden, Newark and Paterson. The announcement was good news for New Jersey, the very last state in the nation to permit the sale or distribution of syringes, but some Newark officials were perturbed to find no cash attached to the approvals.

Today’s announcement comes seven months after Senator Jon Corzine signed a bill legalizing needle exchange programs and invited cities to submit proposals. Newark, the city with the highest rate of HIV in the state, proposed a $1.2 million program aimed at reaching 300 injection drug users in its first year, and officials believed state approval would mean state funding.

Not so, says the state. “From the start, the legislation made it clear that no state funding was attached,” Tom Slater, Communications Director for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, told POZ.  So how will the cities be able to implement these pilot programs without state funds? According to Slater, the city of Camden has already partnered with private agencies and is therefore expected to be the first program up and running.

Needle exchange is much needed in New Jersey, with roughly half of the state’s HIV cases linked to people who used injection drugs or who have had sex with IV drug users—about twice the national average. The state ranks fifth in the U.S. for total cases of HIV.


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