HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Lawmakers Override Needle Veto
Pubdate: Mon, 24 Jul 2006
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2006 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Note: Rarely prints LTEs from outside circulation area - requires 
'Letter to the Editor' in subject
Author: Richard Nangle, Telegram & Gazette Staff
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Activists Say Move Will Slow Spread Of HIV

Supporters of over-the-counter syringe sales expect the number of HIV 
transmissions connected to intravenous drug use to drop now that 
Massachusetts has joined 47 other states where the practice is legal.

State lawmakers last week overrode a Gov. Mitt Romney veto of the 
long-debated bill, which opponents criticized for putting the state 
in the position of condoning intravenous drug use.

"This particular bill, now that it's the law, will, in fact, slow 
down the spread of HIV," said Edla L. Bloom, executive director of 
AIDS Project Worcester. "There will be tangible numbers. People that 
are getting infected from injection drug use, or relationships with 
people who are injection drug users, those numbers will go down as 
they have in other states."

Buying hypodermic needles in Massachusetts has long required a prescription.

The fight over the needle bill was an offshoot of a contentious 
debate over clean needle exchange that in recent years has visited 
many cities in Massachusetts. Supporters of needle-exchange programs 
point to Boston and Cambridge -- both have been distributing needles 
to addicts for more than a decade -- which boast of the lowest rates 
of injection-related HIV transmissions in the state.

The HIV service community was virtually united in support of 
distributing needles to addicts who otherwise would be prone to 
sharing needles and spreading the disease. But in many cases it came 
up against unwavering political opposition.

District 4 City Councilor Barbara G. Haller has been one of 
Worcester's loudest voices against providing addicts with easy access 
to clean syringes, arguing that advocates of such policy do more harm 
than good.

Ms. Haller said government should be aggressively reaching out to 
addicts with information about the dangers of drug use, information 
that also should be made available to the public at-large and 
children. Drug use, she said, ought to be taboo.

"This over the counter stuff violates that taboo," she said.

In the wake of the more than two-thirds override vote by both the 
Senate and House, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Executive 
Director Rebecca Haag said the result would be lives that are saved, 
a reduction in new infections and millions in savings for the state 
in health care costs.

State data show 39 percent of people with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts 
infected directly or indirectly by a dirty needle.

In vetoing the Pharmacy Access bill, Mr. Romney said unintended 
consequences could outweigh any benefits of passage.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey raised the possibility of an increase in the 
careless discarding of needles. She also said new cases of AIDS and 
HIV blamed on shared needles fell from an annual percentage of 32.8 
in 1997 to 15.7 in 2004. Meanwhile, she said, the number of people 
hospitalized annually because of heroin use nearly doubled in that 
time period and the annual number of fatal overdoses more than tripled.

Ms. Bloom said Ms. Healey's comments surprised her.

"I don't know where she is getting this information, because it's 
completely inaccurate," Ms. Bloom said.

Ms. Bloom said a proposal to place drop boxes for used needles 
throughout Worcester would complement the needle bill.

Ms. Haller, however, isn't so sure. And as chair of the City 
Council's health committee, she will have a lot of say over what 
happens to the Operation Yellow Box proposal.

"To target five areas of the city for these boxes, I think, is 
inappropriate," she said. "I have yet to be convinced that we can 
encourage addicts now leaving syringes in our parks and flower pots 
and bushes that they should now leave them in a yellow box. Let's put 
them everywhere, if that's what we're about."

Ms. Bloom said many of those needles are discarded improperly simply 
because up to now they have been illegal and addicts could not risk 
being caught with them.
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