The New Jersey assembly's health and human services committee last week approved two bills aimed at helping injection-drug users get access to clean needles to help them avoid contracting HIV and other diseases though needle sharing. The first bill, advanced by a 7-2 vote, would allow cities in the state to sponsor local needle-exchange programs that are affiliated with hospitals, clinics, and health departments. The second bill, also passed by a 7-2 vote, would allow for the over-the-counter sale of up to 10 hypodermic needles without a prescription. New Jersey is currently one of only two states that ban both needle-exchange programs and over-the-counter sales of hypodermic needles. The needle-exchange program bill now goes to the assembly appropriations committee for consideration. The bill allowing sales of hypodermic needles goes to the speaker of the assembly, who will decide whether to send the measure to the full assembly for a vote. Advocates for the bills have testified before lawmakers that New Jersey's rate of injection drug-related HIV infections is almost double the national average and that the bills being considered would help dramatically reduce the number of new HIV and hepatitis infections among drug users. Opponents say the bills will encourage injection-drug use in the state.