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New law allows more syringe markets to open in New Jersey

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New Jersey harm reduction advocates scored three victories this month when Gov. Phil Murphy signed three related bills into law. The new legislation will allow more needle exchange programs to open, decriminalize needle ownership and establish a review board to investigate overdoses, NJ.com reports.

The laws will also help reduce rates of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C – three viruses that can be transmitted through injecting drug use. Additionally, syringe replacement programs and harm reduction efforts offer the benefit of testing people and connecting them to care.

“The South Jersey AIDS Alliance applauds the bold move by the New Jersey Legislature to protect and expand access to needles in New Jersey. Today’s vote secures healthcare for some of NJ state’s most vulnerable residents,” said Carol Harney, CEO https://t.co/mQPxmVoQ2o

— SJ AIDS Alliance (@SJAIDSAlliance) January 11, 2022

“The principles of harm reduction are simple. We must accept that there is drug use in our communities. Some types of drug use are more dangerous than others. We need to meet people where they are, rather than forcing them to have a preconceived notion of what their lives should be like,” State Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a major sponsor of the bill, told NJ.com.

“Signing these bills into law will help us affirm the truth that harm reduction interventions succeed because they help us meet people who use drugs where they are without judgment.”

About 3,081 New Jersey residents died last year from a suspected drug overdose, according to a governor’s statement reported by NJ.com.

Today @GovMurphy enacted the Syringe Access Bill & Syringe Decrim Bill!

New Jersey can now move ahead with the expansion of syringe services after decades being held back by a restrictive law.

Together we can end the overdose crisis!???????????? https://t.co/CHexcXc5oN

— NJ Harm Reduction Coalition (@NJHarmReduction) January 18, 2022

Needle sharing has been legal in the state since 2006. However, the law that allowed their operation also gave local officials the power to open or close the centers. The new law, S3009, gives oversight to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services.

Previously, only seven municipalities allowed syringe fairs to open in their communities: Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton. Last year, the Atlantic City City Council tried to end the city’s syringe exchange, but after lawyers fought back, a judge allowed it to remain open. Under the state’s new law, local authorities cannot close the site.

Congratulations to New Jersey for paving the way to creating more syringe services statewide!
This is a critical step that will help us end the HIV epidemic and support people who use drugs.https://t.co/ejTjigBKUB

— AIDS United (@AIDS_United) January 18, 2022

A bill that went into effect (S3493) decriminalized the possession of syringes. And a third (A798) is creating a screening team to investigate drug overdoses in the state. The opioid crisis has led to more people taking drugs for injection and has increased the risk of overdose. Additionally, the introduction of the deadly opioid fentanyl into the country’s drug supply has increased the likelihood of overdoses and made drug use more dangerous than ever.

In related news, see “White House Now Supports Harm Reduction Like Needle Exchange” and “We Can’t Beat Viral Hepatitis, HIV, and Overdoses by Closing Needle Services.”

“These bills, coupled with the establishment of local teams to review drug overdose deaths, will strengthen our ability to save lives and advance our commitment to ending New Jersey’s opioid crisis,” Gov. Murphy said. https://t.co/L7EBJpeDbI

— SJ AIDS Alliance (@SJAIDSAlliance) January 19, 2022

Both HIV and hepatitis C can be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, including through shared needles and drug paraphernalia that have come into contact with blood. Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. There can be many causes, but the hepatitis C virus can lead to lifelong infection, mild to severe scarring of the liver (fibrosis or cirrhosis), liver cancer, liver failure, and death. The good news is that Hep C is curable in most cases. For more information, see Hep’s Hepatitis C section, Hepatitis Basics, which introduces viral hepatitis as well as other forms of hepatitis and liver disease, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), alcoholic liver disease, autoimmune hepatitis, and primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). And for a collection of articles in POZ about the intersection of Hep C virus and HIV, click on the hashtag #Hepatitis C.

HIV, on the other hand, is a virus that attacks the immune system. Over several years, the immune system becomes exhausted and the body is unable to fight infection, leading to an AIDS diagnosis. Although there is no cure for HIV, there are many safe and effective treatments available – often just one pill a day. The drugs help people living with HIV live long and healthy lives and prevent them from passing the virus on to others. For more information, see the Basics of HIV/AIDS at POZ.com, a sister publication of HepMag.com.

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