Tie Vote by Springfield City Council Leaves Needle Exchange in ‘Limbo’
A proposed needle-exchange program in Springfield, Mass., was left in "limbo" Monday after the city council's vote on a nonbinding resolution to oppose such programs ended with a tie, the Springfield Union-News reports. The resolution, which would have put the council on record as opposed to such programs but in favor of drug treatment "on demand" and homosexual "partner notification" for HIV, failed on a 4-4 vote. Councilor Daniel Kelly, who opposes needle exchange, was absent from the vote due to illness. The council rejected needle-exchange programs in 1996 and 1998, and the latest resolution was sponsored by Councilor Timothy Rooke in response to a request from the Springfield Alliance for Needle Exchange for "reconsideration" of the issue. Some members of SANE "applauded" the vote because it "left the door open" and gave them "hope [for] renewed discussion of the AIDS issue." The Holyoke, Mass., city council was scheduled to vote on a similar resolution Tuesday, but Councilor Diosdado Lopez said he would seek to "table the measure until a specific program is proposed" (Goonan, Springfield Union-News, 6/5).
'It's About Public Health'
In an accompanying editorial, the Union-News states that "health officials find themselves battling fear and ignorance as they attempt to establish a needle-exchange program" to curb the spread of HIV. Exchange programs have been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the U.S. surgeon general's office. Eight "major" government-funded studies also have backed exchange programs as a means of decreasing HIV transmission. The Springfield area ranks 11th nationwide in the number of AIDS cases, a figure the Union-News says is a "call to action." The editorial states, "Councilors should listen to public health officials, and not to those who simply don't have the medical expertise to decide such an important public health policy." It concludes, "The program ... is not about drugs, drug addicts or crime. It's about public health, and whether needle exchange is one of the many weapons that could be used to slow the spread of a disease that has killed 23 million people" (Springfield Union-News, 6/4).