People are going to use drugs, let's at least make the process as safe as possible.

That's the idea behind legislation advanced by a panel of New Jersey lawmakers earlier this month.

The proposed law would require that pharmacies in the Garden State sell hypodermic needles and syringes to any customer over the age of 18. It was approved by a vote of 10-2 on Oct. 12 by the Assembly Health Committee.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said on top of "crisis levels of addiction," the state is seeing "the terrible consequence of HIV and hepatitis C as a result of unclean needles."

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"People need to have access to these implements, they're going to use them, and let's assist them in getting clean needles," Conaway said.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, close to 38,000 residents were living with HIV/AIDS in 2021. Around 5,000 hepatitis C cases were reported to the state last year.

If the bill were to become law, pharmacies would have to post a sign notifying consumers of their right to purchase needles and syringes. A 2011 state law permitted pharmacies to sell syringes but did not mandate those sales.

Before voting against the bill, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, said while harm-reduction efforts like this may have their benefits, they could also move momentum in the wrong direction.

"The counter is that by making needles more accessible, we are potentially encouraging more use of illicit drugs," he said. "In addition, it is, however small, still a mandate on small business, on top of the other mandates that they are forced to encounter."

The groups Independent Pharmacy Alliance and Garden State Pharmacy Owners have indicated that they are in favor of the legislation.

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