Atlantic City to Close Needle Exchange Center, Says it Makes Tourists Uneasy
New Jersey's largest needle exchange program will end.
Over the objections of local health officials and Gov. Phil Murphy, the Atlantic City Council voted 7-2 to shut down the Oasis Harm Reduction Center, which runs the state's largest needle exchange service.
Oasis is operated by the South Jersey AIDS Alliance and provides testing the recovery services in addition to providing clean needles and syringes. Up to 1,200 individuals rely on Oasis for services.
The timeframe for shutting Oasis is not clear. Once eliminated, New Jersey will have only six needle exchange centers at a time when overdose deaths are soaring nationwide. Federal health officials have said needle exchange sites are critical in helping to get drug users into programs that can lead to recovery.
Atlantic City Health Director Wilson Washington urged the city council not to close the facility, warning of a severe impact to the public health. However, Council President George Tibbitt had been crusading for the closure for month. Tibbitt has claimed the center makes tourists and residents uncomfortable.
Among those voting to close Oasis was Councilman Hossain Morshed, who was assaulted by a gang of armed men and women last week in an attack he claims was meant to send a message to police to leave the "drug business" in Atlantic City alone.
Gov. Murphy tweeted his disappointment as the council's decision, and promised his administration was "committed to preserving access to these evidence-based and life saving services for Atlantic City and area residents.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story should have said that Councilman Morshed voted in favor of the ordinance to close the program.