Atlantic City, N.J., lacks the legal authority to set up a needle-exchange program to prevent the spread of HIV among injection-drug users, Superior Court judge Valerie J. Armstrong wrote in an opinion released Wednesday. The judge said that her opinion did not address whether establishing needle-exchange programs would be sound public policy; it only considered whether programs of this kind were allowed under state law. This year the city councils of both Atlantic City and Camden, N.J., have passed laws to enable the implementation of needle-exchange programs. Both cities argued that a 1987 drug reform act allows government agencies to start such programs. After Atlantic City prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz filed suit to block the program in Atlantic County, Camden officials put their program on hold pending judicial approval.
Without specific authorization from the state legislature, Armstrong ruled, municipalities do not have the authority to launch exchange programs. But a legislative remedy may be on the way: On Tuesday, Gov. James E. McGreevey asked legislators and state health officials to craft a statewide needle-exchange program. Assembly speaker Albio Sires said a bill would come up for a vote in the coming months. If passed, such legislation could set aside Wednesday's ruling. (AP)