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Atlantic City Residents and Harm Reduction Advocates Advocate for Safe Access to Needles

Atlantic City Residents and Harm Reduction Advocates Advocate for Safe Access to Needles

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October 6, 2021 (Atlantic City) – Today, more than 60 people held a vigil outside Atlantic City Hall to urge Atlantic City City Council to reverse its decision to close the City’s only syringe access program (SAP).

“Harm reduction has improved and always will improve the safety and well-being of our clients, their families and their communities,” said Georgett Watson, COO of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance.

Atlantic City Council voted on July 21 to close the Oasis Reception Center, run by the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, after silencing public testimony and against the advice of the city’s health director.

“We have the receipts to refute all the misinformation and discrimination that is being used to justify shutting down access to syringes in Atlantic City. We have extremely well-established science, proven by decades of fighting tooth and nail against HIV and substance use disorders, ”said Mike Nees, South Jersey AIDS Alliance care coordinator. “But more importantly, we have the courageous testimonies of the people of this city who have been on the watch for more than two months, telling the Atlantic City City Council that they were seriously wrong in shutting down Oasis.”

Since the July vote, residents, religious and community leaders, and harm reduction advocates in support of the program have met outside City Hall every Wednesday to demand that council save the program.

“Oasis is a place I’ve been to. The people of Oasis welcomed me, they helped me, they gave me the means to survive, it’s not a joke. It’s life or death, ”said Diane McCormick. “This program absolutely keeps people alive, yet you want to take it out?” Why take away something that helps? Why take away the privilege of having hope?

When people have access to a syringe access program, they are five times more likely to receive drug treatment and three times more likely to stop problematic drug use altogether.

“Whenever the city takes something away from you, they’re the ones who create chaos here,” said poet Loreal (Elle Vintage) Chrisp.

In Atlantic City, 37 percent of residents live in poverty and 45 percent of HIV infections are linked to injection drug use.

“I have been recovering for three and a half years, I am engaged and I have found my daughter. It’s thanks in large part to Oasis, ”said Matthew Diullio-Jusino, an Atlantic City City Council candidate who is running on a platform to save Oasis. “Board Chairman George Tibbit said he was proud to cut social services. Where else are social services more needed than our city? “

In the absence of action, SJAA and three Atlantic City residents who benefit from the syringe access program filed a lawsuit and the court issued a temporary restraining order protecting the program until the next hearing of the court on November 12.

Only one PAS has closed in New Jersey history: the Chai Project, operated in New Brunswick in the 1990s and closed by then governor Christine Todd Whitman, against the advice of her HIV / AIDS commission. . Diana McCague, founder of the Chai Project, was present at today’s vigil.

“A few days after our New Brunswick syringe access program was closed by New Jersey, I received a call from the Director of Police, with whom we had an excellent relationship,” said Diana McCague, former general manager of the Chai Project. “The police chief informed me that New Brunswick was receiving complaints about many discarded syringes found by the public after our closure, syringes that we had helped pick up. When we closed it not only made the public less safe, but it made the city really bad. It’s really sad that thirty years later we are fighting the same fight.

“New Jersey made deadly political choices in the 1990s by shutting down syringe access programs rather than adopting them as essential health services,” said Jenna Mellor, executive director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition . “In 2021, with decades of evidence that syringe access programs save lives, there are no excuses. We are losing more loved ones to drug overdoses than ever in New Jersey history, and it could push us into another HIV epidemic. We need more syringe access programs, not less.

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South Jersey AIDS Alliance is a caring and compassionate human service organization

dedicated to the fight against HIV / AIDS. The South Jersey AIDS Alliance’s diverse and integrated programs and services span 1,500 square miles in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May and Cumberland counties. They serve more than 4,600 people each year to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing nature of the global and local HIV / AIDS epidemic. Although they are based in Atlantic City, other centers are located in Bridgeton, Camden, Rio Grande and Vineland, NJ.

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