Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


New Jersey Protesters Take to the Streets to Protect Needle Exchange Program

Protesters fight to protect New Jersey drug harm reduction facility.

Credit: NJ Spotlight News/YouTube

The streets of New Jersey’s Atlantic City filled with protesters across the month of September and October in efforts to protect the city’s only needle exchange center.

In July of 2021, Atlantic City council members and lawmakers voted 7-2 in favor of defunding and shutting down the city’s needle exchange program in the midst of one of the country’s most severe increases in overdose- and drug-related deaths. This action was taken despite the urgent pleas of both the city’s own health director and many experts and protesters in the area.

Atlantic City local Darlene McCormick, who once used the resources available at Oasis, spoke at the vigil, “I needed to go to survive. It’s about survival. This is our life and death. It’s not a joke.”

Credit: Tim Emerich/Public Domain Pictures

The South Jersey AIDS Alliance/Oasis Drop In Center, known as Oasis to locals, has been providing the city with drug safety related resources for the past 14 years. At Oasis, visitors can access clean needles, the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, treatment for drug addiction and dependence, general health screening and treatment, and HIV testing, a resource which has been critical to the city’s public health after Atlantic City shut down public access HIV tests in 2015.

Oasis offers dozens of resources to support those using and addicted to drugs, including testing strips to detect the presence of fentanyl, safe sex information, first aid care for abscesses that often occur at injection sites, drug-addiction treatment medication, and HIV, HCV, and STI tests and treatment.

Oasis is one of only seven of these sites in New Jersey and is the oldest and largest of the kind in the state, serving approximately 1,200 people each year. It is situated in one of the state’s highest locales of HIV positive residents, 45% of whom report suspected drug use as the source of HIV transmission. Many citizens and activists in the area fear that shutting down Oasis would be a death sentence to community members in the area and result in a massive HIV/AIDS outbreak.

Credit: Joe Mabel

In July, AIDS Alliance filed a lawsuit against the city in an effort to protect the program, resulting in Oasis’ continued operation and protection until at least November 12th, 2021, although many fear for the fate of the organization after this date. Local advocates have been working for over a year to incorporate Oasis and similar programs into state law in order to better ensure their adequate funding and ability to provide the community with resources.

In fact, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently announced his support for legislation proposed by State Senator Joseph Vitale to expand, finance, and protect these centers. New Jersey, a state of 9 million people, offers only seven of these harm reduction locations, while Kentucky, a state of 4.5 million people, has nearly 60 such sites. Vitale’s goal is to see each state county with at least one, if not two of these centers. However, little tangible change has been made regarding these efforts.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, drug-related deaths were thought to be slowing, giving people hope for the potential end of the deadly opioid epidemic. However, despite best efforts and many public health initiatives, the United States finds itself in the midst of a drug crisis, with the CDC estimating over 93,000 overdose related deaths in 2020 alone––a new record approximately 29.4% higher than prior years.

Credit: Todd Huffman/Needle Exchange

In the face of this huge increase in drug-related deaths and hospitalizations, syringe services programs (SSPs) that provide users with clean needles and access to drug-treatment medication has been proven to reduce the transmission of HIV and HCV by 67% and the overall incidence of HIV and HCV by an estimated 50%.

Atlantic City’s heavy casino and night life scene builds the city’s economy on the consumption of drugs and employment of sex workers. While many officials, including those lawmakers in New Jersey’s Atlantic City, argue that resources such as OASIS facilitate and increase community dependence on drugs, harm reduction programs such as OASIS are in fact life-saving to community members for whom these practices will happen with or without the safety precautions OASIS offers.

Interested in learning more about the latest policies to reduce drug-related injuries and deaths? Click here to read about the anti-cocaine spray now in use across UK pubs and public facilities.

Written By

Makenna Dykstra (she/her) is currently pursuing her M.A. in English Literature at Tulane University in New Orleans. She writes journalism and poetry.


You May Also Like


No matter how it looks from an outside perspective, research has shown that baby talk in relationships is natural and healthy. Here’s why.


Here is some advice to get you through finals, by college students for college students!


The Harlem Shake walked so TikTok could run.


An article showing the importance of the Irish annual Late Late Show which displays the joy of the children and also raises funds for...


Long distance can be daunting, but it’s doesn’t mean the end. Here are tips from successful long distance couples on how they make it...


With young people sharing their mental health issues with strangers on TikTok, how has this impacted online disability support communities?


Feeling lost, and stressed after graduating with no idea what to do? You're not alone. Read on if you want to feel comforted with...


Every restaurant, grocery shop, bubble tea place or café in the lanes of Chinatown seems to be hiring. Why is that so?


During The Season, we’re students drinking coffee, studying like crazy, and running around like lost puppies.


There are a few dotted across the globe.


Why is a black cat taking peoples' doubloons?


The crispiest meme format has been resurrected.