(TRENTON) – Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle on Monday introduced a package of bills aimed to increase access to harm reduction services for individuals struggling with substance use disorder in New Jersey.
“The principles of harm reduction are simple. While we understand there people grappling with substance use disorder in our communities, we cannot ignore the importance of treatment and prevention initiatives,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “We need to meet those struggling with addiction where they are. Harm reduction programs prioritize compassion without judgement.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of healthcare and support services in our communities,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee. “For individuals battling with addiction, New Jersey is woefully lacking in harm reduction services. This package will ensure that our loved ones struggling with substance use disorder can get access to the services they need without obstacles or discrimination.”
The newly introduced measures would allow any person to administer or dispense potentially life-saving opioid antidotes and would expunge certain drug-related offenses.
“Hyacinth Foundation is in full support of this package of harm reduction bills, said Wesley McWhite of the Hyacinth Foundation dedicated to fighting HIV in New Jersey. “As New Jersey continues to battle COVID-19, we can’t afford to forget the twin epidemics of HIV/AIDS and opioid dependence. In fact, we would do well to remember the lessons learned from New Jersey’s first battles against HIV/AIDS. Nearly 30 years of research shows that comprehensive syringe service programs are safe, effective, and reduce overall health costs. These programs don’t increase the illegal use of drugs by injection. Studies also show that they protect the public and first responders by providing safe needle disposal. They play an important role in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV, and other infections and must be a major component of the Ending the HIV Epidemic plan for New Jersey. We applaud Senate Chair Vitale, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and other legislative leaders who embrace the science of harm reduction and facilitate meaningful conversation and legislative solutions.”
Christian Fuscarino of Garden State Equality, said of the legislative package, “Garden State Equality wholeheartedly supports this package of harm reduction bills. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the more urgent for us to do everything we can to combat HIV/AIDS and the crisis of opioid overdoses. We’ve known for years that harm reduction works: it improves health outcomes and keeps communities safer. These harm reduction bills will help some of the most vulnerable communities in our state. Once again, Senator Vitale and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle are working hard for communities often overlooked in our state.”
“Expanding life-saving harm reduction services has never been more urgent. New Jerseyans who use drugs and our families are facing the dual pandemics of overdose and COVID-19, and overdose deaths are rising faster for Black residents than ever before,” said Jenna Mellor, Executive Director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. “This harm reduction bill package will ensure that residents across New Jersey have access to life-saving public health supplies like naloxone (Narcan), sterile syringes, and support without stigma or shame. The leadership of Senator Vitale and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle to expand harm reduction services to every corner of the Garden State will be, quite literally, life-saving for our loved ones. Lawmakers have the opportunity, and the moral obligation, to join Senator Vitale and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle in protecting the public health and human dignity of all residents, respecting the value of our lives and wellbeing no matter what drugs we use.”
The newly introduced bills are:
S-3491 Vitale/Vainieri Huttle: Permits any person to administer or dispense opioid antidotes.
S-3493 Vitale/Vainieri Huttle: Permits expungement of possession or distribution of hypodermic syringe or needle offense in cases of previous expungement; repeals criminal offense of possession of syringe.
These measures accompany the following previously introduced bills to address harm reduction:
S-1039 Gopal/Vainieri Huttle: Authorizes pharmacists to dispense HIV prophylaxis without individual prescription under certain circumstances; mandates prescription benefits coverage.
S-3009 Vitale/Gopal/Gill/Vainieri Huttle: Permits establishment of additional harm reduction programs to distribute clean syringes and provide support services to injection drug users.
S-3065: Vitale/Vainieri Huttle: Permits syringes and related supplies to be exchanged via postal mail.
These bills will be heard in the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee on Tuesday, March 9th, and will soon be scheduled for hearings in the Assembly.