Atlantic City: Judge Orders Needle Exchange To Remain Open For Now

Source: Press Of Atlantic City

The city’s needle exchange program will continue operating out of a Tennessee Avenue location for now, according to an order from a Superior Court judge.

“We’re very encouraged the judge is asking the State Department of Health to weigh in on this matter,” AIDS Alliance CEO Carol Harney said after the hearing. “We believe the governor and health department are in full support.”

The program is run by the South Jersey AIDS Alliance out of its Oasis Drop-In Center, which is a block from the Orange Loop redevelopment area of bars, restaurants and planned boutique hotels. The City Council’s ordinance called for its closure on Oct. 12, 30 days after it took effect, which caused Judge Michael J. Blee some concern.

“Two or three councilmen who voted for it (to close) said, ‘We will continue to talk’ (about finding a new location outside of the tourist district),” Blee said. “Then you want to eliminate the program in 30 days? Is that arbitrary and capricious?”

“I don’t view that it is,” the attorney for Atlantic City, Brian Hak, said. “Regardless of where the program is in the city, we don’t think it’s a benefit.”

The judge also said the city had not provided proof that the program has no benefit, while the AIDS Alliance had state data showing new HIV cases plummeted 91% among the city’s intravenous drug users after the program started. The judge also appeared stunned to learn the city had never notified the department of health of the passage of the ordinance to rescind the program, as required by state law.

There is also state legislation pending that would give the state the right to site needle exchange programs where state officials feel they are needed, and which could end the need for the lawsuit, Harney said.

The AIDS Alliance and three city residents identified only by their initials filed a lawsuit in late September against the city to stop the program from shutting down, and hours later Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez delayed the closure and ordered the city not to enforce its new ordinance.

Judge Blee’s order continued that delay until he makes a decision about whether to lift it or not.

He also gave Hak until Dec. 3 to file paperwork opposing the three residents remaining anonymous, while Corrado has until Dec. 10 to respond to Hak’s brief.

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