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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
September 18, 2006

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
609-984-7160


 
Syringe Exchange Programs Reduce the Spread of HIV, Offer Links to Drug Treatment & Rapid HIV Testing


 

After 25 years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, compelling scientific evidence—nationally and globally—demonstrates that syringe exchange programs will save lives by reducing the spread of HIV not only among intravenous drug users, but also among their partners and their children, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., told a Senate committee in testimony today.

Dr. Jacobs believes strongly that syringe exchange programs offer a crucial opportunity to engage drug users in treatment programs and provide HIV counseling and testing.

“Syringe Exchange programs should be part of a comprehensive plan to reduce HIV transmission. That plan should include counseling, HIV testing, drug and HIV treatment, risk reduction education and referrals for mental health treatment, health care and social services.

“Needle exchange is a proven public health intervention that will reduce the spread of HIV and save lives. Communities should be allowed to implement this life-saving program if they choose,’’ Dr. Jacobs told the Senate Health, Human Services & Senior Citizens Committee meeting at the State House Annex.

“We have the opportunity, indeed, the responsibility to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, which has skyrocketed in communities across New Jersey,” Governor Jon Corzine said. “Forty-nine other states have now made the prudent choice to supplement their education and prevention programs with access to clean syringes. This is an urgent public health matter that requires our immediate attention. Simply put: It is time to act."

Dr. Jacobs welcomed the $10 million in increased funding for drug treatment that is included in the legislation the committee considered.

“Drug injectors share contaminated syringes because of lack of legal access to sterile supplies. And more than half of the 70,000 New Jersey residents who have been infected with HIV are intravenous drug users or are the partners or children of drug abusers.

“What is it about New Jersey that makes us the only state in the nation that has failed to give communities the tools they need to make sterile syringes available as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce HIV transmission?’’ the commissioner asked.

“We may not save everyone, but the evidence is compelling that we can save some people from the spread of deadly diseases and so we owe it to the residents of the state of New Jersey to try,’’ Dr. Jacobs testified.

Over the past several years, the Department of Health and Senior Services has worked hard to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS by expanding Rapid HIV testing to 164 publicly funded sites. Nearly 80,000 people have taken the Rapid HIV test since it first became available in New Jersey in November 2003.

“While we have done much to address the problem, much more needs to be done in particular with respect to transmission by injection drug use. We must take the next step—one that all others states have taken—by adopting legislation that would allow municipalities to adopt needle exchange programs and pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription,’’ Dr. Jacobs said.

Virtually every medical, scientific and research study of this issue has concluded that sterile syringe access reduces the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C and does not encourage drug abuse.

Syringe exchange has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the Association of State and Territorial Officers, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the HIV Medicine Association.

According to the WHO: “There is overwhelming evidence that increasing the availability and utilization of sterile injecting equipment to injecting drug users contributes substantially to reductions in HIV transmission, and there is no convincing evidence of major unintended negative consequences of such programs.’’

Public health officials in Camden and Atlantic City have expressed a strong desire to implement syringe exchange programs.

Availability of clean syringes also reduces the risk of disease exposure to the general public by reducing the number of contaminated needles that are discarded in public places like parks, playgrounds and schoolyards.

 “The burden of HIV/AIDS on the residents of New Jersey is great and the cost is high, especially among those in our minority and multicultural communities’’ added Dr. Jacobs.

New Jersey has the highest proportion of women infected with HIV in the nation, the third highest number of pediatric cases and ranks fifth in the nation for total cases. Approximately 70,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in New Jersey since the start of the pandemic and 33,449 are living with HIV/AIDS.

Minorities account for 75 percent of cumulative HIV/AIDS cases among adults and adolescents and 78 percent of all persons living with HIV/AIDS. Almost seven out of 10 persons living with HIV/AIDS are 40 years of age or older.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, visit www.nj.us/health/aids or call the New Jersey HIV Helpline (1-866-HIV-CHECK).

 
 
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