Needle Exchange Debate Continues in Massachusetts Communities
Intravenous drug use remains the main method of HIV and hepatitis C transmission in Massachusetts, according to state public health officials, prompting them to call for more needle-exchange programs, especially in hard hit areas like Worcester, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Needle exchange is legal in Massachusetts, but it is left to each community to decide whether to implement a program. Although Boston, Cambridge, Provincetown and Northampton are the only cities in the state with needle-exchange programs, nine communities last year received $10,000 needle-exchange planning grants. The planning grant pilot programs and Worcester City Manager Thomas Hoover's HIV-Hepatitis C Task Force are the only "bright spots in an otherwise bleak picture," Jean Flatley McGuire, director of the state HIV/AIDS Bureau, told the Public Health Council on Tuesday. McGuire added that although most of the grantees "lack formal support from local government," the planning grants represent a first step toward establishing needle-exchange programs in those communities. AIDS activists said they are "confident" that with McGuire's help, they can persuade the communities and acting Gov. Jane Swift (R) to drop their opposition to needle exchange. "[W]e are hopeful the governor will see the impact of [HIV/AIDS] on communities, on communities of color in particular," AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts spokesperson Magnolia Contreras said. Almost 60% of AIDS-related deaths in the state are related to drug use, according to state statistics.
The Worcester Problem
Worcester's Gardner Visiting Nurse Association was offered one of the $10,000 grants, but declined the money. However, the Henry Lee Willis Community Center received a grant and distributes bleach cleaning kits along with prevention education materials to drug users. Hoover's task force is also working to curb HIV and hepatitis C transmission in the city, where 58% of HIV/AIDS cases are IV drug use-related and the city council has repeatedly rejected needle-exchange proposals. Needle-exchange opponent William Breault said that the grants were a "way of going around the community's express opposition to needle exchange," as evidenced by the council's votes. He said that none of the nine communities that received a planning grant have implemented a program, adding that he thought the task force was "one-sided and biased" (Sutner, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 9/26).