Massachusetts Public Health Department Advocates Needle-Exchange Program in High-Risk Communities
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has launched a media campaign to promote needle-exchange programs in Worcester and several other communities with high HIV and hepatitis C infection rates as a result of injection drug use, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Two highway billboards in Worcester, signs on metro buses and local radio ads tout the pro-needle-exchange message, planned by the Massachusetts AIDS Policy Task Force's Clean Syringe Access Working Group. Task force member Joseph McKee said, "We've been working for several years on a statewide effort to get access to clean syringes through needle exchange or deregulation of the sale of syringes in the commonwealth." He added that the campaign for sterile needles is similar to, but less costly than, the department's anti-tobacco program. But the Worcester City Council has voted twice against adopting a needle-exchange program, and the Fitchburg City Council last month voted against the use of state grant money to promote a needle-exchange program in its community. State Sen. James Jajuga (D) last year filed a bill to expand to Worcester, Springfield, New Bedford, Fall River and Lowell Massachusetts' needle-exchange program -- which currently operates sites in Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown -- but it was vetoed from the budget by Gov. Paul Cellucci (R) after it passed a legislative conference committee. In Boston, 29% of AIDS cases are linked to IV drugs use; in Lowell, 60% of cases are associated with IV drug use; and in Worcester, 53% are linked to the practice. The Department of Public Health reports that injection drug use is the source of infection for more than 50% of all children born with HIV, and the most common risk factor for individuals infected with hepatitis C, which is believed to affect up to 90% of IV drug users. The ad campaign arrives at a time when advocates on both sides "await the scheduling of legislative hearings on a bill that would grant the Department of Public Health the authority to institute needle-exchange programs in at-risk communities" (Nangle, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 4/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.