Our view: Location of drug-use support in NJ's hands now – Press of Atlantic City

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New free syringes for injecting narcotics are supplied to drug users at 32 S. Tennessee Ave. in Atlantic City. City Council’s effort to relocate or close the service has been voided by a new state law.
New Jersey has 564 municipalities, but only seven of them provide drug users with the new syringes that are safer for injecting narcotics.
Until this year, municipalities decided whether they would allow services providing drug-use needles within their boundaries. More than 550 towns and cities wouldn’t.
Now the municipalities have no choice. Under a partisan bill passed by the state Legislature and recently signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, the locations for providing needles to addicts will be determined by the state alone.
Atlantic City is among the seven cities that agreed to participate in a pilot drug needles program. Years later, the state created the Tourism District in the city to make the center of the region’s dominant industry more welcoming to visitors. Leading state representatives began arranging the relocation of social services that drew the homeless and substance abusers to the district. When years passed and the nonprofit providing the needles hadn’t accepted state offers of support for its relocation, City Council increased pressure on it by voting to revoke its approval of the service.
While a lawsuit held up the closing of the drug needle dispensary, the state law revoking the city’s say in the matter was quickly enacted.
City officials welcomed the new law and so do we, and for similar reasons.
Atlantic City Council President George Tibbitt said it’s a positive step for everyone. When drug addicts use clean syringes, they’re far less likely to acquire HIV and hepatitis C — often spread from reuse of contaminated needles. Drug users can be encouraged to seek treatment and take steps to avoid overdoses when they come for the needles.
Those all would have still been true had the needle service been moved out of the Tourism District but kept in the city.
The new law allows the state to keep a needle service in Atlantic City and, better still, lets it put similar services in many other towns and cities that also have addicts but have shunned the stigma of providing obvious services to them.
“I find it a win for a city like Atlantic City. Now it can be put in more communities,” Tibbitt said. “Surrounding communities don’t get to just keep sending (addicts) here.”
Their new power also gives Gov. Murphy and legislative leaders a chance to act on their avowed support for social justice reforms. The seven cities in the state’s needle supply program all have substantial minority and low-income communities. Now they can assure that the challenges of dealing with substance abuse — which is spread throughout New Jersey — aren’t unfairly focused on communities of color.
The equitable distribution of this support for drug users needs to be established now, since a substantial increase in such support is on the horizon. Many of the same arguments in favor of free clean needles for drug users are being made for providing centers where people can use addictive and illegal drugs with less risk and without penalty. And as with safer needles, state officials will probably end up deciding which municipalities must offer such safe locations for drug use.
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New free syringes for injecting narcotics are supplied to drug users at 32 S. Tennessee Ave. in Atlantic City. City Council’s effort to relocate or close the service has been voided by a new state law.
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