Earlier today, public health legislation to decriminalize syringe possession (A-5854) and modernize New Jersey’s restrictive syringe access law (A-4847) advanced through the Assembly Judiciary and Health Committees, respectively.
A-5458 would decriminalize possession of syringes, for which New Jersey made over 55,000 arrests since 2012, These arrests run in direct contradiction to the public health best practice of ensuring widely available syringe access to prevent overdose deaths, HIV, and Hepatitis C.
A-4847 would remove the restrictive municipal ordinance requirement that requires local authorization before a syringe access program can be established. This requirement is the biggest barrier to expanding harm reduction services in New Jersey.
These bills are part of a harm reduction bill package championed by Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. An additional bill in the package that expanded widespread access to naloxone (the medicine that reverses an opioid overdose) was signed into law in July 2020.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle:
“The truth is that harm reduction services save countless lives every single year here in New Jersey” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “Harm reduction is about leading with empathy and working to find resources, not penalties. We must do everything we can to support and expand these services to reach all of our communities.”
Caitlin O’Neill, Director of Harm Reduction Services at New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition:
“We are in the midst of an unprecedented overdose crisis, and the evidence shows that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. Expanding harm reduction services in New Jersey is urgent. Our loved ones are dying all around us without a chance at making positive changes or connecting to care. Decriminalization of syringes and expanded access would mean that it’s safe to ask a doctor about safer injecting practice to avoid life threatening skin infections and endocarditis, safe to even say out loud that you need help to stop injecting, safe to ask for care, safe to have publicly accessible syringe disposal bins in all municipalities, and safe for someone to tell a law enforcement officer or EMS provider that they have a syringe on them, drastically lowering the risk of needle stick injury among first responders.”
Dr. Jenn Oliva, Professor of Law, Associate Dean, and Director of Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law at Seton Hall University School of Law:
“Research proves that permitting individuals to use sterile syringes by decriminalizing their possession and expanding their availability improves health outcomes and saves lives. When combined with other harm reduction interventions, the decriminalization of syringe possession and provision of sterile syringe services is associated with a 50 percent reduction in the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. The state of New Jersey faces an important choice: ignore the evidence, keep the current criminal law in place, and risk exacerbating considerable public health harms OR follow the science, enact harm reduction legislation that will decriminalize syringe possession and fix the discriminatory and restrictive syringe access law, and, in so doing, save lives and taxpayer dollars.”
Dr. Sandy Gibson, Professor and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Counselor Education at The College of New Jersey
“Syringe access programs are so much more than the simple the exchange of syringes. They are where people come to engage in services, services such as Narcan, fentanyl testing strips, and HIV and Hepatitis C testing. They are places to develop relationships with people who care about your wellb-eing, and often the first step in starting to consider engaging in treatment services.”
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New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition promotes harm reduction by distributing naloxone, fentanyl test steps, and other harm reduction supplies through peer-led programs; advocates for syringe access expansion and equitable drug policy reform; and organizes to build power among people directly harmed by overdose and the War on Drugs.