By: Jillian Zimmer, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY – On January 18, 2022, Governor Phil Murphy signed a series of bills to combat the state’s opioid crisis and expand harm reduction efforts.
The three bills remove long-standing barriers to expanding access to harm reduction services and supplies at a critical time when a total of 3,081 New Jersey residents died from suspected drug overdoses in 2021.
These packages will bring services to residents in need of access to clean syringes and prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis, provide health screenings, and connect individuals to treatment, vaccination, education, and recovery supports. These services will build on investments included in the Governor’s budget from recent years.
“Over the last four years, my Administration has prioritized a comprehensive, data-driven approach to ending New Jersey’s opioid epidemic,” said Governor Murphy. “Harm reduction is a cornerstone of our strategy, and through this legislation, we are paving the way for long-overdue expansion of syringe access and other critical services to help people with substance use disorders stay healthy, stay alive, and thrive.”
In the past 15 years, when the original law authorizing the establishment of syringe access programs was enacted, only seven centers in the state offer comprehensive harm reduction services. As a result of these bills, more harm reduction centers can be authorized to offer a comprehensive array of services in a safe environment.
“Research has shown time and again that harm reduction measures work,” said former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “People struggling with addiction will often find a way to obtain and use drugs regardless of the potential risks. Our state loses thousands of residents each year to overdoses alone. If we want to help our fellow community members avoid these tragic outcomes, we must offer the resources and safer alternatives they need.”
“Furthermore, by decriminalizing syringes and fentanyl test strips, we are acknowledging that this crisis cannot be ended through criminalizing critical harm reduction supplies that prevent fatal overdose and transmission of disease,” said Governor Murphy. “In 2021, there were 3,081 suspected drug-related deaths in New Jersey. While this was not a significant increase over 2020, it shows this crisis is ever-present and demands that we increase access to every service that is proven to save lives, starting with harm reduction. These bills, coupled with the creation of local drug overdose fatality review teams, will strengthen our ability to save lives and further our commitment to ending the opioid crisis in New Jersey.”
Governor Murphy signed the following bills into law:
S3009/A4847 (Vitale, Gopal, Gill/Vainieri Huttle, Quijano, Verrelli) – Authorizes expanded provision of harm reduction services to distribute sterile syringes and provide certain support services to persons who use drugs intravenously.
S3493/A5458 (Vitale, Gill/Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji, McKnight) – Permits expungement of possession or distribution of hypodermic syringe or needle offense in cases of previous expungement; repeals criminal offense of possession of syringe.
A798/S52 (Verrelli, Vainieri Huttle, Armato/Singer, Greenstein) – Establishes local drug overdose fatality review teams.
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