Massachusetts Supreme Court To Hear Case Involving Geographical Limits of Needle-Exchange Programs
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday heard arguments in a case addressing whether people who receive needles through community-based needle-exchange programs can possess the needles in communities without such programs, the Boston Globe reports. The case involves Maria Landry, an injection drug user who was arrested in Lynn, Mass., in March 2001 for possession of four hypodermic needles that she claimed to have received at a "state-sanctioned" needle-exchange program in Cambridge. A 1993 state law allows individual communities to decide whether they want to host needle-exchange programs operated by the state Department of Public Health. Four communities -- Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown -- have agreed to operate the programs (Burge, Boston Globe, 10/10). People enrolled in these community needle-exchange programs are allowed to possess hypodermic needles or syringes without a prescription, although possession of non-prescribed needles is illegal for all other state residents (Lavoie, Associated Press, 10/8). Lynn does not have a needle-exchange program, and the law authorizing needle exchange "isn't explicit" regarding whether needles can be taken outside of the communities in which they were supplied.
Needle-exchange advocates say that barring people enrolled in needle-exchange programs from traveling out of the four communities would render the programs "useless" (Boston Globe, 10/10). Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Landry in the case, said, "People who are addicted do not leave their needles at home, so if you accept the interpretation of the district attorney, they wouldn't be able to go to work" (Associated Press, 10/8). But Lynn officials say they "shouldn't be bound by the decisions of communities that hand out needles," the Globe reports. Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke, whose office is prosecuting the case against Landry, also noted that in order to protect participants' anonymity, the cards given to people enrolled in the needle-exchange programs do not include photographs. Therefore it is impossible to know if a person with a card is actually enrolled in the program or if the needles a person is carrying actually came from that program, Burke said. He was joined in his written arguments by district attorneys from five other counties -- Berkshire, Hampden, Worcester, Bristol and Plymouth -- as well as several drug control advocacy groups (Boston Globe, 10/10).