Needle Exchange Program May Get Scrapped in Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY — Advocates fear that a proposed move from city officials could put a significant dent in the progress made over the past several years in reducing the number of HIV-positive residents.
A number of individuals and organizations held an event Tuesday at Firefighters Memorial Park in support of keeping the needle exchange program up and running at a permanent, fixed site, as city leaders debate the future of the social service.
"We are hopeful that we could work out a new location with the city government, and we're hopeful that they will recognize the value of the program," said Carol Harney, CEO of the South Jersey Aids Alliance, which has been providing syringe access services since 2007 when a city ordinance granted permission for such a program.
Atlantic City's clean syringe exchange program is one of just a handful in the Garden State.
An ordinance introduced in June in Atlantic City that would repeal the 2007 rule is scheduled for another reading in late July.
"I'm not aware of any other social service program ever that needs this kind of permission, but this program does," Harney said.
According to Harney, there was solid progress made toward relocating the needle exchange from Tennessee Avenue to a spot near the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, but that move was scratched "at the very last moments."
"We'd be happy to move out of the tourism district," Harney said. "We're not looking, in any way, to hurt the economic engine of Atlantic City."
The Oasis Drop-in Center sees over 1,000 clients per year, Harney said. Meant to eventually steer people away from their substance use disorders, the exchange program also refers people to drug treatment and offers tools related to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
“In the midst of an overdose crisis, New Jersey needs to be leveling up our harm reduction services, not closing them down," said Jenna Mellor, executive director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition. "As a proud product of Atlantic County, our fight to become the state’s first syringe access program is something I’m proud of and the reason I fight to expand harm reduction across New Jersey."
According to the coalition, HIV rates have dramatically dropped in New Jersey since the introduction of syringe access.
When City Council introduced the ordinance to get rid of the needle exchange program, according to The Press of Atlantic City, council members voiced concerns about individuals traveling from other towns to use the social service.
“The question is, can we get our neighboring communities to help us with the drug crisis?” one council member said, The Press of Atlantic City reported.