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Clock is ticking on syringe program shutdown in Atlantic City
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Clock is ticking on syringe program shutdown in Atlantic City

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The countdown for the resort’s syringe access program to shut down has officially begun.

After City Council published the ordinance repealing the program Monday, the Oasis Drop-In Center now has about six weeks until it is prohibited from allowing intravenous drug users to exchange their dirty needles for clean ones.

“That means the clock begins ticking,” Carol Harney, CEO of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, the organization that runs the program, said in an email Thursday. “We expect we will have to stop providing syringes on Oct. 12-ish.”

The program, which was the first needle exchange to open in New Jersey in 2007, has long been debated by city officials. Council cast the first vote for an ordinance to repeal the program June 16.

Despite vocal protests from advocacy groups and the AIDS Alliance, council passed the ordinance July 21 in a 7-2 vote.

Harney said the AIDS Alliance has been in talks with the state Health Department, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and the Governor’s Office to come up with a solution.

Gov. Phil Murphy has been a vocal supporter of the program, and recently announced its support of legislation that would preserve and expand similar programs statewide.

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The legislation would allow the Department of Health to independently establish harm reduction centers and needle exchange programs. Additionally, the law would eliminate municipalities’ ability to shutter needle exchange programs.

“We remain committed to ensuring that Atlantic City and area residents continue to have access to these evidence-based and life-saving services,” Alyana Alfaro, Murphy’s spokesperson, said in an email last month.

During the July 21 meeting, Anthony Swan, the resort’s business administrator, said Wilson Washington, the city’s former director of health and human services, recommended the city keep the needle exchange.

Washington resigned in July to take a job with the federal government, and Harney said the alliance has not communicated with the city since.

Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said Thursday he and Council President George Tibbitt have been talking about solutions with health officials and are looking to schedule a meeting with the AIDS Alliance in the near future.

“We are going to ensure a smooth transition,” Shabazz said. “We’re going to ensure that no one is denied services, and if we have to extend the time we will.”

The exchange in Atlantic City is one of seven in the state, along with programs in Asbury Park, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.

Talks of moving the Oasis Drop-In Center off Tennessee Avenue, which is in the resort’s Tourism District, have been on the table for years.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 years of research have shown such programs are cost effective, help reduce drug overdoses, encourage users to seek treatment and reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

Contact Molly Shelly:

609-272-7241

mshelly@pressofac.com

Twitter @mollycshelly

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