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Associated Press, Jan. 19, 2006
by Angela Delli Santi, AP Writer
TRENTON, N.J. -- Four Republican lawmakers on Thursday said they were withdrawing their lawsuit to prevent needle exchanges from starting in three cities because the order authorizing the program had expired.
Declaring a public health emergency, former Gov. James E. McGreevey used his executive power just before leaving office in 2004 to authorize syringe access programs for drug users in Atlantic City, Camden and a third, unnamed city. The order was challenged almost immediately, however, and lapsed on Dec. 31, before the lawsuits were resolved or any programs were running.
New Jersey and Delaware are the only states that do not provide access to free needles.
Proponents say such programs stem the spread of AIDS and HIV by providing clean, sterile needles to intravenous drug users. Opponents contend that giving needles to drug abusers fuels addiction and its accompanying ills, and fails to address social problems like poverty and unemployment that lead to drug addiction.
The litigation filed by Sens. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, and Tom Kean, R-Union, and Assemblymen Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, and Eric Munoz, R-Union, claimed that there was no emergency and McGreevey did not have the right to bypass the Legislature on the issue.
Bills authorizing needle exchange programs in the state have been introduced in both houses of the Legislature, which convened Jan. 10. Similar legislation was approved by the Assembly in the prior session but stalled in the Senate.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine indicated during the campaign that would support a needle exchange initiative.
'This issue transcends party lines,' Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said Thursday. 'Legislators of all political stripes agree that we must curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, which has skyrocketed in our communities. The governor is considering how best to achieve this goal and welcomes input from these legislators.'
Pennacchio said the suit was withdrawn out of respect for the backlogged courts, but that his opposition to free needles has not waned.
'I don't think it's going to go anywhere,' Pennacchio said of the legislation. 'I hope it doesn't. This is lousy public policy.' He said the state would become a party to violence and despair _ the byproducts of drug addiction _ if it were to give needles away.
Recent court decisions have gone opponents' way.
The Appellate Division stayed the executive order in June, siding with the four lawmakers.
A three-judge Appellate Division panel shot down Atlantic City's syringe-exchange program July, saying it violated state drug laws. Advocates have filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to hear the case.
'We would hope the state Supreme Court would hear this case,' said Roseanne Scotti, director of the pro-needle exchange Drug Policy Alliance. 'We think it's a very important one about the power of municipalities to guard their local citizens.'