The Atlantic City Council voted Wednesday evening to revoke the permission which allowed the Oasis Drop-In Center to operate a needle exchange. The 7-2 vote in favor of repealing the ordinances that allowed the needle exchange to operate was foreshadowed by the council’s first vote in June, also 7-2. However, this one came after nearly two-and-a-half hours of public comment.
Most of the council, echoing Council President George Tibbitt, expressed concern that other municipalities in the state were “sending their problems” to Atlantic City.
Tibbitt, for his part, said that the needles were out of control. He also mentioned showing state representatives areas of the city where panhandling took place and needles were just thrown out into the street.
“They saw what we saw,” he said. “They saw what our children have to face to make it to the beach and the boardwalk. They saw what our businesses go through to have to do business with this type of stuff around.”
Tibbitt added that they are willing to help fight the opioid crisis, if someone comes up with a plan to address needles.
“We’re still willing to work with them, but we’re not doing it alone on the backs of our children and seniors,” he said.
But most of those who commented urged the council that forcing the needle exchange to shutdown is a step backwards.
“I don’t believe eliminating the program will eliminate the problem,” said Helen K., a year-round Atlantic City resident. She recalls needles being used at the Texas Avenue playground in the 1980s and when the city had the highest HIV infection rate per capita in the state. Advocates have credited Oasis with reducing HIV infection rates by 50%.
She agreed with council members that other towns should be offering addiction services, but disagrees that closing the needle exchange in Atlantic City is the answer.
“I don’t see how closing one of the state’s needle exchange programs helps the situation,” she added.