HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Romney Vetoes Needle-Sale Measure
Pubdate: Sat, 01 Jul 2006
Source: Lowell Sun (MA)
Copyright: 2006 MediaNews Group, Inc.
Author: Erik Arvidson, Sun Statehouse Bureau
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


BOSTON -- Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday vetoed a bill that would allow 
for the sale of hypodermic needles without prescription, saying it 
could help promote heroin use and send the wrong message to young people.

Romney said the bill, which proponents hope will stem the spread of 
blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, would have had 
"unintended consequences" such as encouraging more widespread heroin use.

"We cannot in good conscience say that we should make needles more 
available to heroin addicts," Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey said at a press 
conference. "It sends the wrong message, and it facilitates our very 
deadly plague of heroin abuse."

The veto was disappointing news, if not surprising, for Lowell Health 
Director Frank Singleton.

"All the evidence shows this bill would do good," he said, reached by 
phone yesterday.

In addition to preventing the spread of disease, decriminalizing the 
possession of needles helps protect police and other public safety 
officers, because IV drug users don't hide their needles in their 
pockets and clothing, Singleton added.

"There would not be more dirty needles in the street," he said. "(The 
decision to veto is) basically a political decision made by some 
people on an ideological basis."

The Romney administration pointed to Department of Public Health 
statistics showing that the number of cases of HIV being transmitted 
through sharing tainted needles has dropped from about 500 in 1997 to 
fewer than 150 in 2003.

During the same period, according to the DPH, the number of 
hospitalizations for heroin use nearly doubled, from 9,612 in 1997 to 
17,704 in 2003, and the number of fatal overdoses attributed to 
heroin increased from 178 to 574 in that time.

Proponents of the bill cited a 2001 study by the American Journal of 
Public Health that studied drug use in 90 metropolitan areas and 
found there was no evidence that allowing needles to be sold over the 
counter would lead to increased drug use.

Most states in the U.S. allow sales of hypodermic needles without a 
Advertisementprescription for that reason, Singleton said.

"If (all these problems) are going on, why are all the other states 
allowing over-the-counter sales?" he said. "We're not exactly in the 
majority here."

Healey said that she has spoken with numerous law-enforcement 
officials who said that the bill would result in "more needles being 
in circulation and a greater likelihood of coming into contact with 
contaminated needles."

"We feel that ultimately this bill does not create a proper balance 
between public safety and public health," Healey said.

Both houses of the Legislature approved the bill by veto-proof 
margins, with the House supporting it 115-to-37, and the Senate by 26-to-8.

Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, who voted against the bill, said he 
didn't think it would help cut down on the transmission of diseases 
between users.

"Quite honestly, I don't think users are going to be in the drug 
house shooting up and saying, 'Wait a minute, I'm not going to use 
your needle. I'm going to run down to CVS and get a clean one,' " he said.

Pittsfield Police Chief Anthony Riello, vice president of the Police 
Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, said he did not support allowing 
needles to be sold over-the-counter because it might put officers in 
harm's way.

"Anything that makes it easier for drug users to get needles is not 
good," Riello said. "If they have to go through their doctor to get a 
prescription, then that's good and that could be a deterrent."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman