With New Jerseys opioid abuse epidemic continuing to spiral out of control, some municipal leaders are wondering whether it’s a good idea to continue needle-exchange programs.

Officials in Atlantic City, concerned that handing out free needles to drug users is sending the wrong message, are considering holding public hearings on whether to abolish the city’s exchange program.

Roseanne Scotti, the director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, believes scrapping needle-exchange would be a serious mistake.

“We should remember why they were created: To prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, to help people get into drug treatment," she said.

“People are going to access syringes whether we have a needle exchange program or not. If there’s not a needle exchange program, they’ll buy them on the street, they’ll share them, they’ll spread diseases.”

There are needle exchange programs operating in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark and Paterson, serving more than 15,000 residents over the past decade.

Scotti said before needle exchange became a reality, New Jersey had some of the highest HIV and AIDS rates in the country.

“Most of those infections were because people were sharing dirty needles,” she said.

“Over the last 10 years, those rates have dropped dramatically and it’s one of the reasons you certainly don’t want to be thinking of limiting they syringe access program.”

She noted as opioid abuse crisis keeps getting worse, “some places around the country that don’t have needle exchanges are seeing an increase in HIV infections, and you’ve seen states like Indiana and Florida and Arizona enacting or considering laws to create needle-exchange programs.”

She noted these programs “offer people referrals — they actually get people into drug treatment."

"About 25 percent of the people who registered for the needle-exchange programs over the year have actually gotten into drug treatment," she said.

"The increased opioid epidemic is really more of a reason to not limit needle exchange, but to have broader access to needle exchange.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com