January 10, 2022 — Today, the New Jersey Legislature passed far-reaching legislation, sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, to expand access to syringe services, which are essential public health tools to end the overdose crisis.
The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) will expand access to essential syringe access programs (SAP) throughout the state by removing the restrictive municipal ordinance requirement and aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) will decriminalize possession of syringes and allow for expungement of previous convictions.
“This is a huge win for public health. The overdose crisis has raged on during the COVID pandemic with reported overdose deaths higher than ever before,” said Senator Joseph Vitale. “Harm reduction centers provide critical services to those suffering from substance use disorder and this bill will greatly expand their footprint so everyone in need can have access to these lifesaving resources.”
“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.”
According to the CDC, people who have access to syringe service 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.
“This bill is a game-changer as it lifts the single biggest barrier to new syringe access programs opening in the state,” said Jenna Mellor, Executive Director of New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “Harm reduction is the best tool we have to end the overdose crisis, and this legislation will make sure residents in every corner of New Jersey have access to this lifesaving care. New Jersey is losing more residents to overdose deaths than ever before, so we cannot continue business as usual. We applaud Senator Vitale and Assemblywoman Huttle for championing this legislation to expand access to syringe exchanges, saving the Oasis Drop-In Center in Atlantic City, and for recognizing the dignity and humanity of people who use drugs.”
“South Jersey AIDS Alliance applauds the New Jersey Legislature’s bold act in protecting and expanding syringe access in New Jersey. Today’s vote secures health services for some of the state of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents,” said Carol Harney, CEO of South Jersey AIDS Alliance, which operates the Oasis Drop-In Center in Atlantic City. “Harm Reduction programs have a proven history of reducing the incident rate of HIV/ AIDS and other bloodborne pathogens and providing a bridge to drug treatment and nonjudgmental care. I commend our legislators for trusting science rather than stigma.”
“This is a joyous moment for people who use drugs all across our state, and a reminder that we all deserve access to dignified care. In passing these harm reduction bills today, our elected leaders have chosen the health and dignity of all of us — their constituents — over stigma and discrimination,” said Caitlin O’Neill, Director of Harm Reduction Services at New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “Many lives will be saved with the expansion of harm reduction centers and the decriminalization of syringes in New Jersey, and many peoples’ inherent value and humanity will be reinforced. This is one step towards New Jersey ending the overdose crisis, repairing the harms of the racist drug war, and finally building the systems of care that will keep all of us alive and safer — no matter where we lay our heads. Now onwards towards implementation!”
“This legislation allows for the expansion of syringe access services, which is critically necessary. New Jersey has been hard hit by the overdose crisis, and expansion of lifesaving services will ensure that we can provide services to those most in need, and that we will be able to do this where data indicates a need,” said Axel Torres Marrero, Senior Director of Public Policy and Prevention at Hyacinth AIDS Foundation. “Public health will lead the way in service provision. We are so thankful to our sponsors, Senators Vitale, Gopal and Gill, along with Assemblymembers Huttle, Quijana, and Verrelli.”
“A huge thanks to the New Jersey legislators who chose public health over parochialism and enacted a law that will improve health outcomes and save our neighbors’ lives. Everyone deserves access to evidence-based health services,” said Jennifer Oliva, Professor and Director of the Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law at Seton Hall University School of Law.
“The passing of this bill is a huge accomplishment for public health in the state of New Jersey. Our Harm Reduction advocates throughout the state will now have improved access to our most vulnerable communities,” said Shannon Preston, Director of HIV Community Services at Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey. “This is not just about syringe access sites, this is about increasing the health and wellness of whole communities through improved access to healthcare, overdose prevention, supportive services and education.”
“The Syringe Access Bill increases the opportunity for clients to have easier access to services and resources within their communities,” said Martha Chavis, Executive Director and CEO of Camden Area Health Education Center.
“This is what a public health approach to the overdose crisis looks like,” said Marleina Ubel, Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “Harm reduction services, like those provided at syringe exchanges, meet people where they’re at and help them not only stay alive but thrive. We commend the bill sponsors and advocates who made this legislation possible and strongly urge Governor Murphy to sign this into law.”