Pubdate: Sat, 01 Jul 2006
Source: Metrowest Daily News (MA)
Copyright: 2006 MetroWest Daily News
Author: Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed a bill yesterday that would allow 
over-the-counter sales of hypodermic needles, saying the bill was 
well-intentioned but could contribute to other problems, including 
increased heroin use.

"We believe that upon further review of the bill, some of the 
unintended consequences could be more severe than the benefits of 
signing the bill," said Romney, who is considering a run for the 
Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who joined Romney at the Statehouse press 
conference, said the bill could lead to a dramatic increase in the 
number of dirty needles discarded carelessly across the state.

She also said that while new transmissions of the AIDS virus through 
the use of dirty needles has declined in recent years in 
Massachusetts, fatal heroin overdoses have shot up.

The rate of new cases of AIDS and HIV blamed on shared needles has 
fallen from about 32.8 percent of all new AIDS cases in 1997 to 15.7 
percent in 2004. At the same time, the number of people hospitalized 
due to heroin use nearly doubled from 9,612 in 1997 to 17,704, and 
fatal overdoses jumped from 178 to 574.

Healey, a Republican who is running for governor, said the bill 
focuses on the wrong health crisis.

"We cannot in good conscience say we should make needles more 
available to heroin users," she said

Supporters of the bill, approved by wide margins by the 
Democratic-controlled Legislature, say Healey's argument is flawed.

They say the bill will slow diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C that 
can be spread by sharing dirty needles and there's no evidence the 
sale of needles over the counter has contributed to increased drug 
use in states where it's permitted. About 47 states allow the sales.

"All scientific evidence indicates that the availability of clean 
needles does not lead to increased drug use. There is study after 
study after study which we have given to the administration to that 
effect," said Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action 
Committee of Massachusetts.

Healey said she was aware of some studies cited by supporters of the 
bill that indicate there's no connection between the syringe sales 
and increased drug use, "but I haven't had a chance to look at the 
methodology of those reports."

House lawmakers approved the bill by a 115-37 margin last year. The 
Senate passed it on a 26-8 vote earlier this month. Both chambers 
appear to have enough votes to override Romney's veto.

The bill has also become an issue in this year's elections.

At a recent press conference on the steps of the Statehouse, Healey 
raised the specter of children "standing next to a drug addict in the 
checkout line at CVS who is there to buy more needles to feed his or 
her addiction."

Two Democrats seeking the nomination to run against Healey in the 
governor's race immediately criticized the veto.

Deval Patrick said Romney and Healey "put misguided ideology before 
leadership in public health." Chris Gabrieli said the two are "less 
interested in science and reason, and more interested in rigid 
partisan ideology."

Other statewide candidates, including Middlesex District Attorney 
Martha Coakley, the only Democratic candidate for Attorney General, 
back the bill saying it will have "little or no effect on public safety."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman