TRENTON, May 31 - In every legislative session here but one since 1992, at least one bill has been introduced to allow drug users to exchange used syringes for new ones. And though the details have differed from year to year, one goal has remained constant: to reduce the spread of H.I.V. in a state with one of the nation's highest infection rates.
But 14 years later, New Jersey remains one of only two states the other is Delaware that still prohibit both needle exchanges and access to syringes at pharmacies without a prescription.
No one disputes that H.I.V. and AIDS are major public health problems in New Jersey. The state has the country's highest rate of H.I.V. infection among women, who make up 36 percent of the cases among New Jerseyans over 13, and the third highest among children. Over all, almost 33,000 people in New Jersey have AIDS, up from 26,000 at the end of 1998. Forty-one percent of all cases resulted from injection drug use, according to the state health department.
Yet in New Jersey, the effort to make needles freely or more easily available has been blocked repeatedly over the years. Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, adamantly opposed the idea, for instance, while Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, dropped his support in the face of opposition from police chiefs and some legislators.
Now Gov. Jon S. Corzine and the State Assembly are determined to legalize needle exchanges. But once again, the effort is being blocked, this time in the State Senate, where Ronald L. Rice, a Democrat, has struck an alliance with Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority, to keep the legislation bottled up in committee.