Everybody put your hands together for Star-Ledger columnist, Tom Moran, who reminds us that needle exchange programs for drug addicts, which have been used successfully for two decades now all over the country, continue to be blocked in New Jersey for reasons that run the gamut from incoherent to disgraceful. Truly, neither party has covered itself with glory on this issue.
Back in 1996, when she was still considered an up-and-comer in Republican politics, Gov. Christie Whitman rejected her own advisory panel’s findings which showed that needle-exchange programs significantly reduced the spread of AIDS among addicts without increasing drug use and declared that needle programs represented state approval of drug use. Attorney General Peter G. Verniero obligingly cooked up a study that disputed the effectiveness of the programs, using among its sources bogus data from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing moonbat roost that advocated conversion to Christianity as the way to cure drug addiction. Meanwhile, the rate of injection-drug use in New Jersey, particularly in the suburbs and rural areas, grew steadily during Whitman’s administration. (The Dogwood Center, a Princeton-based advocacy group, has plenty of information about this subject.)
GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bret Schundler followed Whitman’s example, stoutly insisting that needle exchanges wouldn’t work, even though his Jersey City home base was among the most HIV-ravaged cities in the country and sorely needed this vital public health measure. Somewhere in the Star-Ledger’s archives is a Schundler candidate interview conducted by the late, sorely missed John McLaughlin, who forcefully challenged Schundler on the issue but might as well have been talking to a brick wall.
But what are we to think of state Senate President Richard Codey who continues to let a bill to establish pilot programs in three cities be held up in the Senate health committee, which is chaired by a raving opponent of the programs, Newark-based Democrat Ronald Rice. Codey could order the proposal shifted to another committee, Moran says, but he worries about flouting Senate protocols.
And while this dithering and maneuvering goes on, people are dying. But as Morgan demonstrates, they’re the kind of people nobody likes anyway — and besides, they don’t vote.
On the other hand, we do. Maybe it’s time for voters like us to move this issue back into the spotlight.