Good morning, Chairman Conaway, Vice-Chairwoman Jimenez, and members of the committee. My name is Marleina Ubel and I am a Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony on New Jersey’s expansion of harm reduction programs (A4847).
NJPP works to improve the lives of all New Jersey residents through research and advocacy; in line with this mission, we support A4847. This bill helps to ensure that every person has access to the lifesaving and evidence-based resources harm reduction services provide.
Even before the pandemic, New Jersey faced an alarming overdose crisis where far too many residents lost their lives. I imagine we all know of at least one person — whether it be a family member, friend, or community member — who did not get the care they needed before it was too late. Now, this crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and New Jerseyans who use drugs are dying at greater rates than ever before. And while New Jersey is not alone in facing these concurrent crises, our state has one of the highest rates of fatal overdose since the start of the pandemic.
Harm reduction programs reduce the risk of overdose as those who have access to these programs are 5-times more likely to start drug treatment programs and 3-times more likely to stop chaotic substance use. Moreover, individuals with access to harm reduction programs are half as likely to acquire HIV or Hepatitis C as those who do not have access to harm reduction programs, increasing the overall health of our communities.
In a state with 9 million residents, there are only seven harm reduction programs. The Legislature can take steps to prevent unnecessary loss of life and reduce the spread of infectious disease by voting yes on A4847. It is well past time to decriminalize public health and make harm reduction services available to those who are most in need.
Thank you for your time and the opportunity to testify.