December 21, 2021 — In an open letter sent to state lawmakers earlier today, more than 120 public health experts, clinical providers, academics, and recovery advocates called on the New Jersey Legislature to pass pending legislation (S3009/A4847) to expand syringe access services.
“We are losing a generation of loved ones and family members to the overdose crisis. In 2021, New Jersey is on track to lose more people to overdose deaths than ever previously recorded, with overdose death rates rising fastest among Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents,” the letter reads.
Currently, syringe services are the only public health service in New Jersey that requires municipal approval before potential programs can begin zoning applications and other steps to opening — a hurdle that makes new programs nearly impossible to launch. Legislation to remove this barrier has already been approved by the Senate and Assembly Health Committees but has yet to receive a hearing in either chamber’s budget committee.
“Despite the clear benefits of syringe access programs, New Jersey has woefully underutilized the lifesaving public health tool for decades. Restrictive syringe access laws are an undue and discriminatory barrier to healthcare for our patients, clients, and neighbors,” the letter states.
When people have access to syringe access programs (SAPs), they are less likely to die from an overdose and three times more likely to start drug treatment. Yet New Jersey only has seven such programs for a state of over nine million residents.
“We do not require a municipal ordinance for pharmacies, doctor’s offices, or methadone clinics — but we put this additional (and discriminatory) hurdle in front of lifesaving syringe access services,” the letter continues.
The proposed legislation would align syringe services with other public health services, with municipalities retaining existing zoning authority and the New Jersey Department of Health retaining existing regulatory authority.
“Every day we wait, our clients, loved ones, and communities are suffering needlessly. New Jersey’s leaders must take action today to prevent overdose deaths and save lives,” the letter concludes.
The letter is signed by more than 150 public health experts, clinicians, and recovery advocates, including Dr. Sandy Gibson (Professor of Counseling Education at The College of New Jersey); Dr. Steven Landers (CEO of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group); Jennifer Oliva (Associate Dean and Director, Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law at Seton Hall School of Law); Debra L. Wentz (CEO of New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc); and Kim Govak (National Certified Peer Recovery Specialist & Program Director at Center for Family Services LIving Proof Recovery).
Syringe access programs are endorsed by the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Public Health Association, and New Jersey Department of Health.