Westport, Mass., Board Approves Needle-Exchange Program To Prevent Spread of HIV Among Injection Drug Users
The Westport, Mass., Board of Selectmen on Monday unanimously approved a measure authorizing a needle-exchange program to help prevent the spread of HIV among injection drug users in the area, the Boston Globe reports. The town is the first one outside of the Boston area to adopt needle exchange as a method of preventing the spread of diseases. Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown all have needle-exchange programs and have "histories of embracing expansive social and public health policies," according to the Globe. In Westport -- which has a population of 14,000 -- 43% of HIV/AIDS cases can be traced to injection drug use. In addition, the town is located between the larger cities of New Bedford and Fall River, both of which are "confronting twin epidemics of drug use and HIV," according to the Globe. Two-thirds of HIV cases in New Bedford and 58% of cases in Fall River between 2001 and 2003 are attributable to sharing needles -- percentages that are "substantially" higher than the 25% state average, the Globe reports. However, both New Bedford and Fall River have rejected needle-exchange programs, according to the Globe.
Westport's needle exchange is expected to be located in a building on a "heavily trafficked" road and open to all injection drug users in the region, the Globe reports. The state Department of Public Health will provide up to $30,000 in the current fiscal year to fund the program, according to the Globe. The town board's approval of a needle exchange "means that people are seeing this as a realistic public health policy that works, and it's not about progressive politics or conservative politics," Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, said, adding, "It's about doing the right thing to save people's lives." However, the needle-exchange program's approval has "ignited a firestorm of protest" from people who believe the program will encourage drug use and increase crime in Westport, according to the Globe (Smith, Boston Globe, 4/27).