Now Law: Quijano & Verrelli Bill Authorizing Department of Health to Approve, Oversee Establishment of Harm Reduction Services

In recognition of the substance abuse and overdose crisis in New Jersey, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano and Anthony Verrelli to make the establishment and provision of harm reduction services easier was signed into law on Tuesday.

To help prevent most medical emergencies caused by the unsupervised injection of illicit drugs, harm reduction services seek to prevent potential health issues by providing sterile syringes and other resources to individuals who use intravenous drugs. Several of these services are already provided via harm reduction programs in high-risk areas throughout New Jersey.

The new law aims to streamline and standardize the provision of harm reduction services throughout the state by shifting the responsibility to authorize and terminate these services from municipalities to the Department of Health (DOH).

“Harm reduction measures provide critical services to residents while honoring the dignity of those living with a substance use disorder,” said Assemblywoman Quijano (D-Union). “These services are provided without stigma or judgment by professionals who can help limit the risks of intravenous drug use, such as HIV or hepatitis infections and overdoses. This law will help make it easier for these services to be approved and maintained going forward.”

Under the law (formerly bill A-4847/S-3009), entities such as substance abuse treatment programs and qualified health care providers that wish to provide these services will submit a registration form to the Department of Health (DOH) for consideration. These services could include the provision of opioid antidotes and clean syringes, the testing of a controlled substance to detect any dangerous elements, and the offering of other supplies to help mitigate potential disease transmission and overdoses.

The Department will approve the proposed services if the entity’s proposal meets applicable requirements such as staff training procedures, infection control measures, and needle injury precautions/protocols. The harm reduction services could be provided in a fixed location, mobile location or by mail/delivery.

“Both compassion and logic are at the heart of harm reduction services,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “With countless New Jerseyans struggling with addiction every day throughout our state, we cannot turn a blind eye to their needs. Making it easier for qualified entities to start – and continue – providing clean needles, overdose antidotes, and resources that can connect individuals with other support services is how we save lives.”

The DOH will be required to facilitate the linkage of these harm reduction services to other critical services, such as medication-assisted treatment services, mental health services, career counseling programs, and housing assistance programs to try to help address the root causes of many substance use disorders.

The act takes effect immediately.