New Jersey governor James McGreevey, who will resign from office on November 15, on Tuesday signed an executive order allowing up to three cities in the state to establish needle-exchange programs to help stop the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases among injection-drug users. The order declares a health-related state of emergency in the state through December 31, 2005, and will permit the state health department to administer needle-exchange programs in up to three cities that meet specific requirements; the program may be expanded to include more cities if needed, according to health officials. The executive order was issued as two needle-related bills--one that would authorize needle exchanges and another that would allow over-the-counter sales of syringes--have become bogged down in the state senate after being passed by state representatives. McGreevey has championed both bills and hoped to sign them before leaving office next month.
The executive order will allow Atlantic City and Camden to immediately begin needle exchanges because those cities have each already passed legislation to establish such a program. McGreevey's executive order allows any city in the state with an HIV prevalence rate exceeding the state average and its own law allowing a needle exchange to apply to the state health department to establish a program. Health officials say they expect either Newark or Jersey City, both of which have high numbers of injection-drug users and HIV prevalence rates above the state average, to become the third city to launch a needle exchange in the coming weeks. The state legislature will decide whether to continue the programs in 2006.