Pubdate: Sat, 07 Dec 2002
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc.
Author: Robert O'Neill, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


BOSTON -- A person enrolled in a needle exchange program in one city may
legally possess needles obtained through the program anywhere in the state,
the state's highest court ruled.

Arguing that the programs' important public health goals could otherwise be
imperiled, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday an interpretation of the
law "that discourages program participation by effectively limiting where a
participant may legally possess needles would certainly hinder, and might
well defeat, the (Public Health) department's attempt to deal with the

The ruling comes in the case of Maria Landry, 22, who was charged with
illegal possession of needles in Lynn last year, even though she was a
member of an authorized needle exchange program in Cambridge.

In Massachusetts, except for certain qualified health professionals, it is
illegal to possess a hypodermic needle or syringe without a prescription.

The Legislature amended that law in 1993 to allow possession of needles by
people enrolled in the state's pilot needle exchange programs in four
cities: Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown.

The program was designed to fight transmission of blood-borne diseases among
drug users.

Prosecutors claimed enrollment in one town didn't trump the laws in another
town. The city of Lynn also argued such programs encourage drug use and
export it to cities where there are no exchange programs. But the state's
high court disagreed.

"I think it will allow needle exchange to work the way the Legislature
intended, and that will save lives of people who were addicted to drugs,
their partners and their children," said Sarah Wunsch, Landry's attorney.

Landry's case drew the support of the Public Health Department, former
prosecutors as well as dozens of health organizations and anti-drug groups.

"We have been very concerned that our programs were operating under a cloud
of uncertainty regarding the potential for arrest for their participants,"
said Jean McGuire, director of the Public Health Department's HIV/AIDS

Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke said he regretted the opinion
didn't deal with the public policy issues he raised.

"We hope it will help not only people with safe needles and needle exchanges
but will prompt public officials to recognize the need to deal with the
epidemic of overdoses and overdose deaths, especially in our older cities,"
Burke said.
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