Mass. Senate To Debate Bill That Would Authorize Nonprescription Sale of Hypodermic Needles
The Massachusetts Senate this week is expected to begin debate on a bill (S 1312), sponsored by Sen. Robert O'Leary, that would authorize the nonprescription sale of syringes to people ages 18 and older as a means of reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other bloodborne diseases, the Boston Globe reports (Viser, Boston Globe, 5/1). The state House in November 2005 voted to approve similar legislation (H 4176), which would require pharmacists dispensing the needles to provide a brochure created by the state Department of Public Health that includes information about the proper use and disposal of syringes and needles, the risk of contracting bloodborne diseases through such devices and the state's toll-free number for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C information (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/16/05). The bill also would decriminalize possession of a hypodermic needle. Gov. Mitt Romney (R) likely would veto the bill if it reached his desk, his spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom said, adding that the governor "believes that removing prescription controls on hypodermic needles ... encourages heroin use, and because there is no system for the safe disposal of used syringes, it threatens to litter our parks, beaches and neighborhoods with dirty needles" (Boston Globe, 5/1). The state health department supports the measure. About 39% of HIV cases in Massachusetts are linked to injection drug use (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/16/05).
Boston Herald Examines Needle-Exchange Programs in Mass. Localities
The Boston Herald on Sunday examined how the four localities in Massachusetts that have approved needle-exchange programs "are being flooded by out-of-town" injection drug users. Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Provincetown are the only localities in the state where needle-exchange programs are legal. According to a Herald analysis, about 12,500 of the nearly 18,000 people enrolled in the four programs do not reside in any of the four localities. Some advocates are pushing for approval of the bill; however, Northampton Police Department Chief Russell Sienkiewicz, who supports the city's needle-exchange program, said he opposes nonprescription sales of needles, saying the policy could result in contaminated needles littering the streets and would reduce the motivation for IDUs to access health care (Crimaldi, Boston Herald, 4/30).
The state Senate bill that would authorize the nonprescription sale of syringes "deserves the support of enough senators to override a veto threatened by Romney," according to a Globe editorial. Massachusetts is one of three states without this "public health measure of proven effectiveness," and as a result, IDUs often share needles, exposing themselves to HIV and hepatitis C, the editorial says. Some critics of the proposed legislation worry that nonprescription availability of syringes would increase drug use, but "that has not happened ... in the 47 states that allow such sales," nor has it happened in the four communities in Massachusetts that have needle-exchange programs, according to the editorial. "Making clean needles more available to addicts is a step that ... other states have found to be a sensible way to reduce one method of transmitting [HIV/AIDS] and other bloodborne diseases," the editorial says, adding that Boston Mayor Thomas "Menino's message to the Senate is on target: 'You are not promoting drug use by supporting this legislation -- you're solving a problem'" (Boston Globe, 5/2).