DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network

8/13/97

ACTION ALERT: Needle Exchangers Convicted

On August 11, Thomas Scozarre and Diana McCague of the Chai Project Needle Exchange Program in New Jersey were found guilty of violating New Jersey state law for distributing a clean syringe to an undercover police officer. Their sentences, $500 fines and 6-month drivers' license suspensions were stayed pending appeal. Their conviction, however, came with a silver lining, AND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO HELP CHANGE THE LAW BY WRITING TO THE MEDIA AND TO LEGISLATORS.

The Judge, upon handing down the sentence, made it very clear that the law was itself immoral, calling McCague a "modern day Joan of Arc" and someone whom he would be "proud to have as a daughter." His concern, according to insiders, was that as a municipal court judge, his opinion throwing the law out would not be binding on the state and that the issue needed to be decided on appeal.

The Chai Project, in operation since January 1994, currently exchanges approximately 80,000 syringes per year to IV drug users (less one, distributed to a narc) and is in the forefront of efforts to alleviate New Jersey's status as the #3 state in the nation for drug-related AIDS transmissions. New Jersey's Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, has been an outspoken critic of this humanitarian practice and has even caused controversy by ignoring her own commission's findings on the subject. In fact, the CHAI bust seems to have been motivated by that very controversy as Chai's employees had been told that they were "in the papers too much" while Governor Whitman was embroiled in the issue.

DRCNet is strongly urging everyone on this network to send a letter to one or more of the news outlets listed below. AND we are also urging that all of our New Jersey residents contact their state legislators (and that those with friends or family in New Jersey urge them to do so) to demand that action be taken to legalize this proven method for slowing the spread of deadly disease to and among IV drug users, their partners and children.

A Note: The Chai Project was recently awarded a sizeable grant by the Conference of Mayors to do outreach work with women at risk in New Jersey (distinct from needle exchange). This demonstrates the professionalism and commitment of those who are involved in this program...including those who have been arrested, and now convicted for the forbidden act of trying to save the lives of their fellow citizens.

As always, DRCNet would appreciate copies of your submitted letters. It helps us in our fundraising efforts to be able to demonstrate your participation. We recommend not listing us as a cc on your e-mail to the newspapers, and if possible, not sending identical letters to more than one paper. (If you do send the same letter to multiple papers, make sure to at least use separate pieces of e-mail for each paper). And please be sure to let us know if your letter gets printed.

THE KEY MEDIA: --------------

Newark Star Ledger Richard Argood, Editorials Editor 1 Star-Ledger Plaza Newark, NJ 07102-1200 e-mail: eletters@starledger.com

Home News & Tribune Barbara Frankel, Editorials Editor 35 Kennedy Boulevard East Brunswick, NJ 08816 Fax: (732) 937-6046 e-mail: letters@thnt.com

Asbury Park Press Andrew Sharp, Editorials Editor 3601 Highway 66, Box 1550 Neptune, NJ 07754-1550 Fax: (908) 922-4818 e-mail: asharp@app.com

Trenton Times George Amick, Editorials Editor P.O. Box 847 Trenton, NJ 08605 e-mail: news@njtimes.com

New York Times Howell Raines, Editorials Editor 229 West 43 St. New York, NY 10036-3959 Fax: (212) 556-3622 e-mail: letters@nytimes.com

POINTS FOR YOUR LETTERS:

1. The CDC estimates that there are currently 46,200 IV drug users in New Jersey who are not yet infected with the aids virus, but the ban on needle exchange places them at greatly increased risk of contracting it.

2. Through the end of 1996, some 19,100 New Jersey residents age 13 and over had injection-related AIDS or had died from it.

3. New Jersey has the third highest injection-related AIDS rate in the nation.

4. About 50 percent of all AIDS cases in New Jersey are injection-related.

5. Through the end of 1996, some 11,800 African Americans and 3,000 Latinos living in New Jersey had injection- related AIDS or had died from it.

6. The rate of injection-related AIDS cases among blacks in New Jersey is 17 times higher than the rate for whites. The rate for Latinos is 6 times higher than the rate for whites.

Corresponding information for every state is available on our web site at http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS.

NEW JERSEY RESIDENTS: Visit http://www.interactive.net/~swayze/njlegislators.html for contact info for your state senators and assemblymembers, or call New Jersey Legislative Information at (609) 292-4840.

Additional information about the Chai Project saga, including previous DRCNet bulletins, can be found using our Drug Library Search Engine at http://search.druglibrary.org and entering "Chai Project" as your search term.

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