August 12, 2021— Today, the Murphy Administration called for modernization of New Jersey’s restrictive harm reduction law and urged legislators to lift the onerous municipal ordinance requirement that limits harm reduction services (S3009/A4847).
“New Jersey’s syringe access services are a public health success story,” said Carol Harney, Chief Executive Officer of South Jersey AIDS Alliance. “We’ve dramatically reduced new HIV infections from injection drug use, distributed thousands upon thousands of doses of lifesaving medicine to reverse overdoses, and made our communities safer and healthier. We stepped up during COVID-19 to ensure that residents got vaccines, housing assistance, food services, and lifesaving infectious disease prevention tools like syringes. That Atlantic City is on the verge of closing a highly successful syringe access program in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and overdose crisis, which could fuel a new HIV and Hepatitis C crisis, should be a wake-up call to policymakers to change restrictive, outdated legislation. With the leadership of the Murphy Administration, Senator Vitale, Assemblywoman Huttle, and Assemblyman Armato, we look forward to modernizing New Jersey’s syringe access laws, aligning them with national best practices, and continuing to show up for the residents of Atlantic City every day with essential public health services. We invite any legislators who are interested in learning more about harm reduction to visit our site and meet directly with program staff.”
New Jersey’s restrictive and outdated law recently has allowed for the closure of Atlantic City’s syringe access program — one of only seven in the state — against guidance of the city’s health director, the New Jersey Department of Health, and the Murphy Administration. By modernizing the state harm reduction law, lifesaving syringe services that are an essential tool in fighting the overdose crisis would be available for all residents who need them.
“Thank you Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver for your public health leadership. This legislation is desperately needed in New Jersey as demonstrated by the debacle that has occured over the summer in Atlantic City. I applaud the Governor for his commitment to saving the entirely preventable deaths of our cherished neighbors and friends who are struggling with substance use disorder and hope the NJ legislature answers the call,” said Jenn Oliva, Director of the Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law at Seton Hall University.
“The legislation championed by Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver would close critical gaps to care for people who use drugs, which is an urgent issue of racial, economic, and social justice,” said Wesley McWhite, Policy Director at Hyacinth Foundation. “With the right policies in place, New Jersey can take great strides to preventing overdose deaths and new HIV infections, which are disproportionately harming Black and Latinx communities.”
“Access to harm reduction supplies and services—from new syringes to HIV testing to naloxone—is the only way we will survive prohibition and the overdose crisis. For too long, people who use drugs have been left to our own devices in NJ if we don’t fit an abstinence-based narrative. Not all drug users choose that path though, and that choice should not be a death sentence for us,” said Caitlin O’Neill, Director of Harm Reduction Services at New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “By championing a change to New Jersey’s restrictive harm reduction law, Governor Murphy is sending a message that New Jersey is a state that cares about its residents and meets us where we’re at, through all parts of our journey.”
“Harm reduction programs, of which syringe access is an essential component, are proven to prevent overdose deaths and replace drug war policies of punishment with ones of healing,” said Jenna Mellor, Executive Director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver have dedicated more funding and leadership to expanding harm reduction than any administration in New Jersey history, yet lifesaving policies cannot reach people who need them most with our outdated, restrictive law. If we as a state wake up in the morning and ask ourselves if we’re doing everything we can to prevent overdose deaths, yet fail to change this law, the answer will be a resounding no. The leadership the Murphy Administration, Senator Vitale, Assemblywoman Huttle, and Assemblyman Armato showed today is tremendous.”
“Widespread access to harm reduction services is essential to abolishing the drug war in New Jersey. For far too long Black individuals who use drugs have been punished rather than treated with compassion in our state. Harm reduction services save lives and are an essential lifeline for people who use drugs,” said Reverand Charles Boyer, founder of Salvation and Social Justice. All barriers that stand in the way of widespread expansion of these services should be eliminated. We stand with Governor Murphy and fellow advocates in support of this legislation,”
“New Jersey is moving in the direction to end the War on Drugs by intentionally investing in the lives and wellbeing of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, which has been missing for the past 50 years,” said Solomon Middleton-Williams, Deputy Director of Newark Community Street Team. “Investing in holistic approaches like the trauma recovery center, hospital violence intervention program, juvenile justice pilot, and now championing needed legislative change to expand harm reduction moves New Jersey in the right direction.”
“The effort by Atlantic City to close its syringe access program, which is proven effective through decades of research, is an example of leaders ‘picking and choosing’ who they want to prioritize in their communities. The reality is that all community members matter, and all community members deserve access to lifesaving syringe services, regardless of where they live. We celebrate Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver for their leadership in calling for needed legislative changes to benefit the public health of all residents,” said Brittany Holom-Trundy, Health Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Here are some findings about harm reduction, which is a proven public health best practice and a movement led by and for people who use drugs, people who recently stopped using drugs, people in recovery, and their loved ones:
- Harm reduction services are only available in 1.2 percent of New Jersey’s municipalities and one of three New Jersey counties
- People who have access to harm reduction programs are less likely to die from a fatal overdose, five times more likely to start a drug treatment program, three times more likely to stop chaotic drug use all together, and 50 percent less likely to acquire HIV and Hepatitis C than people without access.
- Nine out of ten people who use drugs, and potentially at risk of overdose, are not interested in drug treatment any given time. Harm reduction services “meet people where they are at” with tools and support to stay alive and set self-determined goals about quality-of-life and wellbeing.
- New Jersey has seven harm reduction programs. If New Jersey had the same per capita harm reduction programs as Massachusetts, we would have 40 programs; if we had the same per capita as Kentucky, we would have 108.
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. To request naloxone (brand name Narcan) and safer use supplies, mailed for free and confidentially throughout New Jersey, call/text 1-877-4NARCAN or visit www.nextdistro.org/newjersey.