Friday, May 05, 2006

Needle Exchange: an ex-junkie's 2 cents

From yesterdays Courier Post opinion page:
Forward-looking legislators, including Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, D-Camden, have long pushed for this program to stem the spread of the AIDS virus. In New Jersey, particularly in hard-hit areas such as Camden, needles infected with the AIDS virus are one of the most common ways this disease is spread. One out of 91 African Americans in Camden is infected with HIV, up from one in 101 African Americans last year. Further delaying this life-saving program is unconscionable.

...Roberts is principled enough to understand that it is indefensible to ignore the needs of New Jerseyans who already are sick with HIV or those who could become infected. Contrary to the unfounded objections by state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Newark, needle exchanges do not promote drug use. In the 48 other states that have such programs, drug use has not gone up. Instead, the spread of HIV through shared needles has decreased.

To show support, I called up Sen Roberts to tell him that he's fighting for people like me. I also submitted a letter to the editor:

My story of recovery proves beyond any doubt why the Courier Post's position on needle exchange is the right one.

I have been clean for nearly three years. My drug of choice was crystal meth and towards the end of my addiction, I was taking the drugs with needles most of the time.

I did a lot of stupid things when I was abusing drugs: lost my job and ruined my credit, devastated my family, became homeless, etc. In the worst days of my addiction, it seems clear that there were a lot of things working against me. But there was one advantage I had which, in retrospect, probably saved my life.

When I was a junky, I lived in Pennsylvania and I could get clean needles. There is no doubt in my mind that without a needle exchange program in PA, I would've acquired HIV and Hepatitis. I believe that my recovery from IV-drug use is the hardest thing I will ever do. Which is why it's painful for me to contemplate what recovery might be like if I were battling AIDS or hepatitis at the same time.

Since HIV transmission rates in Newark are among the nation's highest, it is bitterly ironic that Newark Sen. Ron Rice Sr. repeatedly objects to a needle exchange program in this state. His arugment that needle exchange promotes drug use or sends the wrong message is wildly off the mark.

When a person is suffering from an overdose, we rush him to a hospital to get the best medical care we can. Imagine the doctor saying to the drug user's mother: “Sorry, I can't give your son medical care because that would send the wrong message.”

I am grateful to Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts of Camden for showing leadership and political courage to fight for needle exchange in this state. As politically unpopular as needle exchange is in Trenton, we need leaders like Roberts who have the ability to strip away all judgements in the name of sound public policy.

Jay Lassiter
cherry Hill NJ


Jacquie said...

Very well stated. Good for you for your candor and for speaking out to those in power.

The Phoenix said...

Great letter. Hopefully something can be done soon. I had no idea the rate was so high in NJ.

Granny said...

In order for people to have a chance at recovery, they have to be alive.

CA has been having this battle for years and some communities do it no matter what the law says.

It's about punishment Jay, it always is.

Did I mention there is a cervical cancer vaccine being stalled by the FDA? The religious right says it will promote promiscuity. I could go on but I'll do it on my blog, not your comment box.

Rob said...

Jay I'm overwhelmed by your courage in writing about this. Somebody out there with problems of their own is reading this. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's helping some of them to cope and get the help they need. Recoveries can take many paths. Bush recovered from alcholism by becoming a war monger who robs from the poor to give to the rich. You're simply making a difference in people's lives.

Granny said...

Bush did not recover from alcoholism. He stopped drinking. There's a big difference between dry and sober. He's never learned it.

He's a walking example of self will run riot (or a tornado roaring through the lives of others).

Godwhacker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Godwhacker said...

Wow Jay... I'm glad that you were able to come back from such a dark place. I had my own battle with meth and hiv. Both are powerful adversaries. I agree that health and pragmatism go well together. I'm not sure if we have needle exchange programs in Florida, but if not I'll lobby my local government in favor of them.

SJBrian said...

Wow. Kudos on the courage to share your struggle with us. Even greater kudos on your successfully battling that addiction. Needle Exchange (as a larger part of HIV/AIDS policy) has been an issue close to my heart for a while. I've posted the introduction to a four part series on Needle Exchange in NJ (I'm a Cherry Hill resident) on Blue Jersey, that I hope will inform and help shape the debate in favor of these programs. I'd love to have your input and/or have a conversation on the issue, if that's something you'd be inclined to do.

Schadenfreude said...

This has got to be one of the most courageous posts I've ever read. Respect.