Today, the General Assembly is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow pharmacies to sell syringes to adults even without a prescription.

The State Senate has already approved the measure. If the full Assembly passes the legislation it will go to Governor Chris Christie's desk. He has not indicated yet whether or not he will sign it into law.

Reed Gusciora, Gordon Johnson and Craig Coughlin sponsor the measure in the Assembly while Joe Vitale and Loretta Weinberg are the Senate sponsors. They note that the legislation would allow the limited sale by pharmacies of hypodermic syringes and needles without a prescription in order to make them more accessible to New Jersey residents seeking to protect their own health, and to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases.

"This bill will help curb the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases and allow people who are diabetic to readily have syringes for their use," says Gusciora. "This sensible and controlled approach will enable syringe users to take personal responsibility for both their health and the health of others."

Under the bill, a licensed pharmacy would be able to sell a hypodermic syringe or needle to a person over 18 years of age without a prescription if sold in quantities of 10 or less; or in quantities of more than 10 under an authorized prescription. Pharmacies selling hypodermic syringes or needles must keep their supply under or behind the sales counter and inaccessible to the public.

Johnson says, "This measure would empower those seeking to be proactive and protect their own health and the health of others. It is not designed to allow for the unrestricted flow of needles, but instead it's a smart approach to creating access to those who need them."

Pharmacies would also be required to provide each person who purchases any such instrument with information about the safe disposal of the instruments as well as substance abuse treatment options.

"Through this legislation, we're not seeking to condone drug use or create a gateway to legalize otherwise illegal drugs," explains Vitale. "We're trying to advance sound health policy which would reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and address a significant public health epidemic in the Garden State."

Anyone who purchases a hypodermic syringe or needle and sells that needle or syringe to another person would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to 6 months, or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Weinberg says, "New Jersey is one of only two states in the entire nation where the sale of clean needles and sterile syringes is restricted under law. We have to look at this issue with an open mind, absent moral judgment, and recognize that what drug addicts need most in New Jersey is access to clean, safe needles and treatment to help beat their addiction."

The bill would also amend current law so that individuals would be allowed to possess a hypodermic syringe or a needle without a prescription.