October 23, 2018

Atlantic City Council To Reconsider Syringe Access Program

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A needle discarded in a landscaped corner near the Oasis Drop In Center - September 2017.

Update – Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that would allow the syringe services program to operate as a mobile-only exchange. You can read more about that at the end of Thursday’s edition of the Route 40 Roundup.

The City of Atlantic City Council on Wednesday will again discuss doing away with ordinances that allow New Jersey’s largest needle exchange to operate.

The Oasis Drop-In Center on Tennessee Avenue, operated by the South Jersey Aids Alliance, has existed for years in an office building on a site that was, until recently, like many others in the city’s Tourism District. But since developers started opening new businesses a block from the needle exchange, the city and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority have been investigating ways to move or close the program.

Councilman Jesse Kurtz is proposing the ordinance that is on the agenda for Wednesday’s council meeting. Kurtz put forward a similar ordinance earlier in the Spring. It is not clear what rescinding the ordinance would mean, legally. Kurtz said earlier this year he hoped it would draw the attention of the state, which manages the federal funding for the program. Carol Harney, chief executive of the South Jersey Aids Alliance, did not respond to messages.

Atlantic City Council Questions Future Of NJ’s Largest Needle Program

CRDA has considered helping the South Jersey Aids Alliance replace the on-site syringe services program with a mobile unit. In July, a CRDA spokeswoman said, “The mobile unit for needle exchange is one of many ideas that Matt Doherty [CRDA executive director] is considering at the CRDA to work with other agencies and help improve the Tourism District. It is too premature to speak about it at this point, but we will hopefully have more information to be able to share with you in the near future.” The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for an update on Tuesday.

The city’s syringe access program has made big strides in the last year to reduce discarded needles around its site on Tennessee Avenue. Since September, when Route 40 began reporting on the problem of used needles in the area, the South Jersey Aids Alliance has increased its syringe-return rate to 98 percent, from about 50 percent in previous years, according to state data.

Data from the New Jersey Department of Health

But the Oasis Drop In Center is still by far – the state’s biggest syringe access program, according to New Jersey Department of Health Data. It has seen limited success in  sending participants into drug treatment. Just seven of its 1,079 participants for the year through July were referred to treatment. Only one was admitted, a much lower rate than other syringe programs in the state reported.

In an op-ed for The Press of Atlantic City in April, Harney wrote that the program helps a population that rarely accesses social services. The South Jersey Aids Alliance wants to work with city and state officials to move, Harney said, responding to the ordinance proposed by Kurtz earlier this year.

“Like any city, Atlantic City has needs. They cannot be wished away by increasing barriers to lifesaving services. If people close their eyes to the needs of the residents, it will only reverse the progress that the community has fought so hard to achieve. The result would be detrimental to all stakeholders,” Harney wrote.

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