The coronavirus may have moved the heroin crisis out of the headlines and out of our minds, but America’s addiction to opiates has only grown stronger. But instead of creating a climate where more drug addicts can get help, Atlantic City Democrats are essentially pushing their heroin issues to the outskirts of town.
As COVID has been battered, killing more than 600,000 Americans in the process, our country’s appetite for opiates has reached increasingly insatiable levels. And now we have the body count to prove it: approximately 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020. Most of those deaths were associated with opiates like heroin, prescription drugs, and fentanyl. , a synthetic opioid that is about 60 times more potent than morphine. . Amphetamines OD also hit a new record.
That figure of 93,000 roughly equates to the population of Toms River, the 8th largest city in New Jersey.
Let it sink in for a moment.
Later this month, the Atlantic City council will vote to shut down Oasis, a needle exchange site located on Tennessee Avenue, about 3 1/2 blocks from the beach. The mayor of AC and (most) council appear poised to send Atlantic County’s only needle exchange program off the island to a site that once housed the infamous Golden Key Hotel, a notorious flophouse where a notorious serial killer attacked sex workers in 2006. And that’s a problem because needle exchange has to be cheap and convenient for it to actually work.
Why the syringe exchange? A clean syringe costs a quarter. Lifetime treatment for hepatitis costs $ 200,000, a burden we all share since (in most cases) people who inject drugs do not have the best insurance coverage.
The South Jersey AIDS Alliance which runs Oasis has proposed a new site behind the convention center that is “far enough away from the casinos but still accessible to those who need it most because education saves lives.” It also saves a lot of money by not treating the expensive illnesses associated with drug addiction. “
Last week, a coalition of harm reduction enthusiasts gathered in Atlantic City (see photo) to support Oasis and urge stronger adoption of harm reduction policies. Syringe exchange, for example, limits the damage drug addicts cause to their health while they use. Oasis is an entry point for everything from wound care and HIV testing to life-saving NARCAN and drug therapy. It’s a good investment and it keeps drug addicts away from our COVID overloaded hospitals.
It is the work of God. you would have thought local officials revered the staff of Oasis by showering grace on the “month or you” of us.
Jenna Mellor is Co-Director of the NJ Harm Reduction Coalition.
“Atlantic County has one of the highest overdose death rates in New Jersey,” Ms. Mellor told InsiderNJ. “Overdose deaths in New Jersey are on track to be worse than any year in the history of the state. If Atlantic City goes ahead with its proposal, people will die. Black and brown residents, women, low-paid workers, immigrants, and LGBTQ residents will suffer the most. “
Christian Fuscarino of Garden State Equality echoed this sentiment.
“Studies show that over 30% of people identified as LGBTQ abuse substances, compared to just 9% of those who identify as heterosexual,” Fuscarino told InsiderNJ. “Every LGBTQ person should be outraged by any effort to take down a harm reduction center. of our state and sees it as a direct attack on our community.
It’s election year and Democrats like Phil Murphy and Sheila Oliver will be waving their pro-LGBTQ until November. All that proves is that it’s easy to be an LGBT ally when the going is easy and the stakes are low.
So what about when the stakes are high and the road is strewn with pitfalls?
The perils of NIMBY
Atlantic City officials, including City Councilor Kaleem Shabazz, are right to bemoan the uneven distribution of harm reduction sites in New Jersey. They are still in minority communities because this is how the pilot NJ needle exchange legislation (signed in 2006) was written: 6 needle exchange sites, all located in urban areas, remaining NJ municipalities with veto power over harm reduction expansion in their cities.
Guess how many municipalities have rolled out the welcome mat in the meantime?
“The question is not whether we support the needle exchange. City Councilor Kaleem Shabazz said AC press. “We have supported the needle exchange. The question is whether our neighboring communities are helping us cope with the drug crisis?”
Unfortunately, probably not.
You won’t see leafy suburban towns like Montclair and Cherry Hill on the harm reduction train anytime soon because (most of the time) city lawmakers won’t have it.
And sadly, if AC lawmakers get what they want, the city’s intravenous drug user has nowhere to access clean needles and (perhaps more urgently) nowhere to easily dispose of. and safely out of its syringe litter. This means more biohazardous waste in the community, which puts family members and first responders at increased risk of cross-contamination.
And it fills me with an incandescent rage that makes me want to light my hair on fire. Luckily, I know who to call to get me off the ledge.
New Jersey super-lobbyist Jeannine LaRue was born and raised in South Jersey. Former vice-president of the NJ Casinos Commission, Ms. LaRue is particularly familiar with the thin fault line between the bourgeoisie and the populace.
“Councilor Shabazz is right,” Ms LaRue told InsiderNJ. “It’s not fair that places like Atlantic City are forced to shoulder the burden of New Jersey’s harm reduction needs. But it is also not fair to suddenly put Oasis out of reach of those who do. need.
There is a bill pending in the legislature that would extend harm reduction services to all municipalities and prevent local councils from preventing the opening of vital harm reduction services in their communities.
Jay Lassiter is a former intravenous drug user who leads a hepatitis-free life in Cherry Hill.
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