Governor Phil Murphy signed a series of bills to combat the state’s opioid crisis, expand harm reduction efforts and increase access to lifesaving resources for individuals with substance use disorders.
These bills remove long-standing barriers to expanding access to harm reduction services and supplies at a critical time when a total of 3,081 New Jersey residents died from suspected drug overdoses in 2021.
This package will build on investments included in the Governor’s budget in recent years to bring services to residents in need of access to clean syringes and prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis, provide health screenings, and connect individuals to treatment, vaccination, education, and recovery supports.
“Over the last four years, my Administration has prioritized a comprehensive, data-driven approach to ending New Jersey’s opioid epidemic,” said Governor Murphy. “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.”
The original law authorizing the establishment of syringe access programs was enacted 15 years ago and has only enabled seven centers in the state to offer comprehensive harm reduction services. Though an important step forward, it did not adequately address the barriers that stigmatize syringe access services and treat them differently from all other public health strategies.
As a result, there is limited access to harm reduction services, which further deepens the gaps in care experienced by people who use drugs. These individuals face judgment and stigma which prevents them from accessing critical health services and linking to treatment for problematic substance use.
Through this package, more harm reduction centers can be authorized to offer a comprehensive array of services in a compassionate and welcoming environment. Harm reduction centers build hope and dignity among clients and create healthier communities- something all residents deserve.
We are acknowledging that this crisis cannot be ended through criminalizing critical harm reduction supplies that prevent fatal overdose and transmission of disease,” Governor Murphy said. “In 2021, there were 3,081 suspected drug-related deaths in New Jersey. 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.”
The package also creates 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.
Governor Murphy signed the following bills into law:
S3009/A4847 (Vitale, Gopal, Gill/Vainieri Huttle, Quijano, Verrelli) – Authorizes expanded provision of harm reduction services to distribute sterile syringes and provide certain support services to persons who use drugs intravenously.
S3493/A5458 (Vitale, Gill/Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji, McKnight) – Permits expungement of possession or distribution of hypodermic syringe or needle offense in cases of previous expungement; repeals criminal offense of possession of syringe.
A798/S52 (Verrelli, Vainieri Huttle, Armato/Singer, Greenstein) – Establishes local drug overdose fatality review teams.