The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) removes authority to approve and close syringe access programs (SAPs) from local municipalities and places that authority with the New Jersey Department of Health, aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions.
“This legislation is a game-changer for people who use drugs and people at-risk of a fatal overdose. Harm reduction is the best tool we have to end the overdose crisis, and this legislation will save the Oasis Drop-In Center and make sure residents in every corner of New Jersey have access to lifesaving syringe services,” said Jenna Mellor, Executive Director of New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “This legislation is lifesaving. Every resident who uses drugs deserves the very best care and support possible, and this legislation will make that a reality. I commend Governor Murphy and the bill sponsors for championing harm reduction and enacting policies that prioritize public health over punishment and stigma.”
By shifting authority from municipalities to the New Jersey Department of Health, this legislation effectively prevents the Atlantic City SAP, called the Oasis Drop-In Center and operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, from being closed by the Atlantic City Council. In July 2021, the Atlantic City Council voted to remove municipal approval from the SAP over the objections of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, local and statewide advocates, and the Murphy administration.
“South Jersey AIDS Alliance applauds Governor Murphy’s bold act in protecting and expanding syringe access in New Jersey. This legislation secures health services for some of the state of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, from Atlantic County to Sussex County, who are all too often overlooked by policymakers,” said Carol Harney, CEO of South Jersey AIDS Alliance, which operates the Oasis Drop-In Center. “By expanding syringe access and protecting health services for people living with a substance use disorder and who are living with or at-risk of HIV, New Jersey lawmakers are saving lives.”
New Jersey was the last state in the nation with a legal pathway to syringe access. Syringe access programs (SAPs) are endorsed by the CDC, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, World Health Organization, and New Jersey Department of Health as a best practice to end the overdose crisis — yet, at the time of today’s bill signing, only seven SAPs exist to serve New Jersey residents. If New Jersey had as many SAPs per capita as Kentucky, the state would have over 150.
“This is a joyous moment for people who use drugs all across our state. 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,” said Caitlin O’Neill, Director of Harm Reduction Services at New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “This is a vital 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.”
Today’s bill signing resulted from a growing movement to protect and expand syringe access in New Jersey. Over 150 public health experts and healthcare providers urged Governor Murphy and the New Jersey legislature to pass modernized syringe access legislation; New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition and Vital Strategies launched a public education campaign in support of harm reduction featuring billboards, social media ads, and an interactive website; supporters held weekly vigils outside of the Atlantic City Council office in support of syringe access; and a pro bono legal team sued Atlantic City to protect syringe services.
“A huge thanks to Governor Murphy and New Jersey legislative champions who put public health over stigma and enacted harm reduction laws that will improve health outcomes and save our neighbors’ lives,” said Jennifer Oliva, Professor and Director of the Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law at Seton Hall University School of Law. “Everyone deserves access to evidence-based syringe access services, and this legislation will make that access possible.”
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.