This past week, Atlantic City, New Jersey has shut down its needle exchange program sites as the country suffers from a large increase in deaths from large drug overdoses.
The Oasis Drop-In Center, which is a facility that on average serves over 1.200 people and was then the only syringe service location in the entire Atlantic City area, is slated to be shut down after a 14-year stint in the wake of a controversial 7-2 City Council vote.
“It’s going to be devastating for people — it’s already devastating,” stated Carol Harney, who is the chief executive officer of South Jersey AIDS Alliance (SJAA), that has operated in the site since way back in 2007, as reported by Buzzfeed.
As the largest of seven of these sites sprinkled around New Jersey, the needle exchange site sought to provide various medical services to the areas addicts, and people who are currently in recovery, such as clean needles, health screenings, overdose-prevention drugs, and addiction treatment.
The council’s decision to shut down the site was very unpopular with the area’s public health advocates but was supported by the local authorities. Out of the around 50 public comments concerning the issue, all of them save two were in opposition to the closing down of the site. Members of the City Council made the argument that too many people come in from out of town to make use of the needle exchange service and that the location has been the cause of the issue with syringes littering the boardwalk and local parks.
“It doesn’t make sense for Atlantic City to be the only place that has to deal with the drug crisis,” stated George Tibbitt, the City Council President, during the close to three hour council meeting this past Wednesday.
“We’re all here to protect our reputation and our children,” he stated.
As part of the virtual meeting, Tibbitt displayed a plastic jar that was nearly full of needles, going on to state they all came from the ground a the local park.
“They give out these assisted suicide devices, being the needles, and these people are ending up dead in the streets,” Tibbitt stated this past week. “We’re taking our streets back. It’s gotten out of control.”
Another person on the council wound up in the hospital earlier this past month with multiple broken bones after he was attacked by, what he believes to be, supports of the needle exchange program. The police officials in Atlantic City are currently investigating the attack.
“I thought they were going to shoot me. I’m thinking about my family and if I died, who was going to take care of my family,” stated Councilman MD Hossain Morshed from his hospital bed.
Morshed still went on to vote to close down the needle exchange site even after the attack.