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Court order halts New Jersey needle-exchange programs

Court order halts New Jersey needle-exchange programs

New Jersey's first needle-exchange programs, set to begin July 1 in Camden and Atlantic City, were halted by an appeals court pending arguments about their legality. The temporary injunction, issued by the Mercer County superior court appellate division on Thursday but not made public until Monday, stays an executive order issued last October by outgoing governor James E. McGreevey that permitted up to three cities to establish experimental needle-exchange programs. "It's definitely a setback," said Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey. "Now we are in the situation where at least two people a day will get infected from sharing dirty needles." For years advocates have pushed for New Jersey to create needle exchanges for injection-drug users, arguing that such access helps control the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV. But efforts to legalize exchanges in the state have died in the state legislature, where some equate the programs to condoning illegal drug use. Led by state senator Tom Kean Jr., seven lawmakers challenged McGreevey's order declaring a public health emergency and allowing the programs, which would be monitored by the state health department. Kean said McGreevey "overstepped the bounds of his office" in issuing the order and accused the former governor of trying an "end run around the senate" after failing to get the needle-exchange bill passed. The attorney general's office, which argued the case for the state, is "reviewing the court's order and considering our appellate options," said office spokesman Lee Moore. Scotti said the injunction is a "tragedy" for the two communities. "Both these cities have support from the grassroots to the top. We're not forcing anyone to do these needle exchanges. Now these communities have someone from the outside saying, 'No, we're not going to let you save lives in your city.'" (AP)

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