Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed a package of bills aimed at fighting opioid addiction and taking other steps to address drug addiction in New Jersey.
The governor said he signed three bills that take “a comprehensive, data-driven approach” to ending New Jersey’s opioid crisis via increased access to “lifesaving resources” for those with substance abuse disorders.
“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,” Murphy said in a press statement.
More Than 3,000 Overdose Deaths Last Year
“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,” the governor added.
In 2021, 3,081 New Jersey residents died from suspected drug overdoses, according to the governor’s office.
“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,” Murphy said.
Syringe Access Programs
Murphy said a 15-year-old law aimed to authorize the establishment of syringe access programs, but so far it has only enabled seven centers in New Jersey to offer comprehensive harm reduction services.
The governor’s office described the law as “an important step forward,” but said it did not adequately break down barriers that stigmatize syringe access services and treat them different from all other public health strategies.
The new bills ease the way for more harm reduction centers in New Jersey, Murphy’s office said.
Additionally, the legislative package would create “multidisciplinary local overdose fatality review teams, “which will provide invaluable insight into the circumstances surrounding fatal drug overdoses and identify opportunities for intervention that may prevent these fatalities in the future,” the governor’s office said.
The bills that Murphy signed are:
- legislation (S3009/A4847) authorizing expanded provision of harm reduction services to distribute sterile syringes and provide certain support services to persons who use drugs intravenously,
- legislation (S3493/A5458) that allows expungement of possession or distribution of hypodermic syringe or needle offense in cases of previous expungement and repeals statutory language making possession of a syringe a criminal offense, and
- legislation (A798/S52) that establishes local drug overdose fatality review teams.
“These laws will establish vital programs that will aid in the management and care of those battling addiction, while also giving them a second chance if found in possession of a syringe,” said State Sen. Nia Gill (D-34), a sponsor of two of the bills. “Not only will these measures help to save lives, but they will provide support with the dignity everyone should expect when seeking treatment and receiving care.”
“Research has shown time and again that harm reduction measures work,” said former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle who sponsored all three bills. “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.”