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Guest Editorial: New Jersey Ban on Syringe Sales Must End . . . Now

It's time for New Jersey to live up to its tradition of helping its most vulnerable citizens.

In New Jersey we like to think of ourselves as a state with progressive public policies. This is particularly true when it comes to the delivery of healthcare to citizens who are most vulnerable and in need of government intervention. NJ FamilyCare, for example, provides health services to the state's poorest children.

But when it comes to the issue of allowing pharmacies to sell syringes, New Jersey's public policy has been an abject failure. Up until now, only two states, New Jersey and Delaware, forbid this practice without a prescription. The policy makes no sense and many healthcare advocates argue it has contributed to drug addicts using dirty or used needles, which has only exacerbated the HIV/AIDS epidemic -- particularly in urban areas.

For years, many in the healthcare community and some legislators, particularly Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), who is chairman of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, have advocated that New Jersey's law regarding the selling of syringes be changed. Yet, there has been reluctance, and in some cases fear, on the part of our elected officials in the Statehouse to act on this issue. I imagine the thinking has been that voters would see politicians who voted to allow the sale of syringes in pharmacies as advocating or promoting illegal drug use. Yet, one wonders how such an illogical point of view could have been sustained for so many years, given that 48 other states do just that.

Hopefully the situation is about to change, because legislation to allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription has passed the Assembly Health Committee and the full Assembly is expected to vote on this matter in the next couple of weeks. The state Senate passed a comparable bill nine months ago.

If passed, the new law says that no more than 10 syringes can be purchased by any individual at any one time. But again, no prescription would be required. Who would benefit? First, we are talking about IV drug users and addicts, who would hopefully be using clean needles instead of dirty ones. Further, diabetics who need to inject insulin into their bodies on a regular basis would be helped if this law were passed. The legislation is supported by the New Jersey Hospital Association, the New Jersey Nurses Association, the New Jersey Pharmacists Association, as well as the New Jersey Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, recently told the Star-Ledger that it costs approximately $618,000 to care for each HIV-afflicted person over a lifetime. Scotti added, "People can kick addiction, but there's no cure for AIDS." And according to Assemblyman Conaway, who has fought for this legislation for years; "Often, New Jersey is on the cutting edge of forward-thinking policy with regard to healthcare, but this time we're bringing up the rear."

The time is long overdue for New Jersey to act on this issue. It has been studied to death. Governor after governor have ducked the issue, and individual legislators, like Democratic Sen. Ron Rice of Newark, have consistently opposed lifting the ban on selling syringes, saying that it would only make drug use in our cities worse. In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a Republican from Monmouth County said, "The sale of syringes really ignores the reality that drug addiction is destroying lives.I really feel that it's [repealing the ban] a message of hopelessness."

I disagree. Allowing the sale of syringes in pharmacies is a message that New Jersey is finally going to do the right thing and protect those who are using dirty needles from themselves and their deadly addiction. It is a message that New Jersey will finally catch up with 48 other states and leave Delaware as the last state standing in the way of sane healthcare policy regarding syringe distribution. It is hoped that Governor Christie will step up and do the right thing and sign this long overdue legislation, when and if it gets to his desk. If not, more unnecessary pain and suffering is likely to continue.

In New Jersey we like to think of ourselves as a state with progressive public policies. This is particularly true when it comes to the delivery of healthcare to citizens who are most vulnerable and in need of government intervention. NJ FamilyCare, for example, provides health services to the state's poorest children.

But when it comes to the issue of allowing pharmacies to sell syringes, New Jersey's public policy has been an abject failure. Up until now, only two states, New Jersey and Delaware, forbid this practice without a prescription. The policy makes no sense and many healthcare advocates argue it has contributed to drug addicts using dirty or used needles, which has only exacerbated the HIV/AIDS epidemic -- particularly in urban areas.

For years, many in the healthcare community and some legislators, particularly Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), who is chairman of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, have advocated that New Jersey's law regarding the selling of syringes be changed. Yet, there has been reluctance, and in some cases fear, on the part of our elected officials in the Statehouse to act on this issue. I imagine the thinking has been that voters would see politicians who voted to allow the sale of syringes in pharmacies as advocating or promoting illegal drug use. Yet, one wonders how such an illogical point of view could have been sustained for so many years, given that 48 other states do just that.

Hopefully the situation is about to change, because legislation to allow pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription has passed the Assembly Health Committee and the full Assembly is expected to vote on this matter in the next couple of weeks. The state Senate passed a comparable bill nine months ago.

If passed, the new law says that no more than 10 syringes can be purchased by any individual at any one time. But again, no prescription would be required. Who would benefit? First, we are talking about IV drug users and addicts, who would hopefully be using clean needles instead of dirty ones. Further, diabetics who need to inject insulin into their bodies on a regular basis would be helped if this law were passed. The legislation is supported by the New Jersey Hospital Association, the New Jersey Nurses Association, the New Jersey Pharmacists Association, as well as the New Jersey Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Roseanne Scotti, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance, recently told the Star-Ledger that it costs approximately $618,000 to care for each HIV-afflicted person over a lifetime. Scotti added, "People can kick addiction, but there's no cure for AIDS." And according to Assemblyman Conaway, who has fought for this legislation for years; "Often, New Jersey is on the cutting edge of forward-thinking policy with regard to healthcare, but this time we're bringing up the rear."

The time is long overdue for New Jersey to act on this issue. It has been studied to death. Governor after governor have ducked the issue, and individual legislators, like Democratic Sen. Ron Rice of Newark, have consistently opposed lifting the ban on selling syringes, saying that it would only make drug use in our cities worse. In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a Republican from Monmouth County said, "The sale of syringes really ignores the reality that drug addiction is destroying lives.I really feel that it's [repealing the ban] a message of hopelessness."

I disagree. Allowing the sale of syringes in pharmacies is a message that New Jersey is finally going to do the right thing and protect those who are using dirty needles from themselves and their deadly addiction. It is a message that New Jersey will finally catch up with 48 other states and leave Delaware as the last state standing in the way of sane healthcare policy regarding syringe distribution. It is hoped that Governor Christie will step up and do the right thing and sign this long overdue legislation, when and if it gets to his desk. If not, more unnecessary pain and suffering is likely to continue.

What do you think? Write to me at sadubato@aol.com

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