All but two expressed support for keeping the needle exchange at Oasis open. The majority of those who commented live outside of Atlantic City. They were supporters of the exchange, former drug users who relied on a needle exchange, or people who work with the harm reduction centers in other parts of the state.
One person who commented – Drew Gibson, Senior Policy Manager for HIV and Harm Reduction at AIDS United – participated from the Washington, D.C. area.
“I do just want to point out that the absence of a service does not mean the absence of a problem,” Gibson said. “People that use drugs will continue to be in Atlantic City. But instead of receiving the health care that they need, they will be showing up in emergency rooms with abscesses, with endocarditis, with HIV and with viral hepatitis.”
At least one council member directly addressed the number of non-city residents who signed up to comment.
“These people don’t actually live in Atlantic City, so they don’t see what’s going on on a daily basis,” said Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy. “They don’t walk over the syringes, they don’t see these people at your cars begging for money and I’m having to grab my kids and walk them around them at the playground.”
At one point during the comment period, Tibbitt held a jar that was nearly half-full of needles in front of his webcam and claimed they were recovered off Boston Avenue and at a skatepark. He was pushing back against those who said that Oasis collects needles.
“A week-and-a-half to collect this many needles with no caps on them, no nothing,” he said. “Is that fair to our children?”
The two councilmembers who voted against the bill – Mo Delgado and Latoya Dunston – expressed concern about what will happen to Atlantic City if the council signs off on the ordinance.
“Do you think this, in turn, will make other municipalities want to engage in providing a service like we’re trying to eliminate?” Delgado posed. “Will this prevent some lives being lost?”
“I’m just hoping that if this goes through, we have a plan that will save our residents,” Dunston said before the vote. “I understand everyone’s concern is that a lot of people are coming here from out of town, but as it stands, once we do this we won’t have a plan for our residents.”