Most states allow syringes to be sold over the counter without a prescription, and New Jersey moved closer to joining that list on Monday, when the Assembly Health Committee approved A-1088, a bill allowing the practice. The state Senate has already approved the measure.
Assemblyman Dr. Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington), chair of the committee, said “this is an important public health measure. There have been numerous studies that have shown that if you can prevent someone from using a dirty needle you will prevent people from acquiring diseases, some of which are deadly—hepatitis C and HIV. You can prevent these illnesses if you can prevent people from sharing needles.”
The legislation is supported by a wide range of healthcare and public interest groups in New Jersey, including associations of pharmacists, family physicians, chain drug stores, diabetes educators, and social workers. Speaking against the bill at Monday’s hearing was John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families. He said it is not enough to provide access to syringes for illegal drug abusers; he said these individuals should be given help to overcome addiction. He urged the committee to vote against the bill.
Carol Wolff, executive director of the Camden Area Health Education Center, spoke in favor of the bill, which she said is “long overdue—New Jersey is one of only two states in the nation that does not allow over-the-counter sales of syringes.”
She said two years ago Camden established the first mobile syringe site in New Jersey, adding that 1,700 people have registered and are regularly accessing syringes. “Our services include HIV prevention and support for individuals living with AIDS. We also operate a chronic disease self-management program that includes residents who are struggling with diabetes. They have said they wish syringes could be obtained over the counter and would be willing to purchase them in local pharmacies.”
Wolff said the need for syringes is shared by both at-risk drug users and low-income individuals with diabetes. “That is why we are urging your support of this legislation.”
Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth), a member of the Health and Senior Services Committee, voted against the bill. She said in a statement: “We are sending the wrong message by making it easier to continue dangerous and addictive behavior. Selling syringes without prescriptions is basically giving up hope that we will ever be able to defeat the grip that drugs have on our society. From my experiences working to keep youth away from substance abuse, I know how difficult it is stop drug abuse. The best way to help intravenous drug users recover is through abstinence and long-term treatment.”