As needle-exchange funding dwindles, advocates begin crowdsourcing
A program that provides sterile syringes to IV drug users is running out of money, prompting a New Jersey-based AIDS alliance to set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise money to keep the program going.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the GoFundMe page — which has raised $1,011 of its $95,000 goal — was created by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, a group that runs Atlantic City’s syringe access program.
New Jersey’s Syringe Access Programs operate in five cities: Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. In a statement Thursday, the DPA said the Paterson program had to suspend operations two months ago because it ran out of supplies and funding and in Camden, the program is expected to run out of supplies by the end of the summer.
The DPA explained that the syringe access program provides people who use intravenous drugs with sterile syringes and other medical supplies. The program is aimed at helping drug users to protect themselves from blood-borne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis C by giving them access to clean needles, eliminating the need to share needles with other users.
In addition, the programs - which was launched 10 years ago as a pilot program under the Blood-Borne Disease Harm Reduction Act — offer drug users information about overdose prevention, HIV testing, counseling, referrals to drug treatment, basic medical care and naloxone — an antidote for opioid overdoses.
“Every time someone visits a syringe access program it is one less chance they will get HIV and hepatitis C and one more chance they will get access to drug treatment and other social services,” Martha Chavis, executive director of the Camden Area Health Education Center, said in a statement.
Last week, Gov. Chris Christie recently vetoed a measure that would have provided $95,000 for the program from the state budget. Advocates who support the program are hoping minor changes will be made to the bill and the governor will eventually sign it.
“These programs are a critical component of New Jersey’s efforts to fight HIV and hepatitis,” said Roseanne Scotti, NJ State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “And now with the increase in opioid use their services are needed more than ever before. We’re going to do everything in our power to keep them going.”
In the past decade, the program has also benefited from small grants from private foundations, but those fund have become more scarce.
Thousands of IV drug users in New Jersey have enrolled in the program since its inception, according to the DPA, which also claims the Syringe Access Program saves the state money, since lifetime care for an HIV patient can cost more than $600,000 while a clean needle costs about 10 cents.
Scotti said the state should address the increase in opioid use in New Jersey by providing funding for the syringe programs, rather than having to force the programs to rely on crowdsourcing.
“The programs shouldn’t have to set up a GoFundMe page,” she said.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.
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