Activists say move will slow
spread of HIV
Richard Nangle, Worcester TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Supporters of over-the-counter syringe sales expect
the number of HIV transmissions connected to
intravenous drug use to drop now that Massachusetts
has joined 47 other states where the practice is
State lawmakers last week overrode a Gov. Mitt
Romney veto of the long-debated bill, which
opponents criticized for putting the state in the
position of condoning intravenous drug use.
“This particular bill, now that it’s the law, will,
in fact, slow down the spread of HIV,” said Edla L.
Bloom, executive director of AIDS Project Worcester.
“There will be tangible numbers. People that are
getting infected from injection drug use, or
relationships with people who are injection drug
users, those numbers will go down as they have in
Buying hypodermic needles in Massachusetts has long
required a prescription.
The fight over the needle bill was an offshoot of a
contentious debate over clean needle exchange that
in recent years has visited many cities in
Massachusetts. Supporters of needle-exchange
programs point to Boston and Cambridge — both have
been distributing needles to addicts for more than a
decade — which boast of the lowest rates of
injection-related HIV transmissions in the state.
The HIV service community was virtually united in
support of distributing needles to addicts who
otherwise would be prone to sharing needles and
spreading the disease. But in many cases it came up
against unwavering political opposition.
District 4 City Councilor Barbara G. Haller has been
one of Worcester’s loudest voices against providing
addicts with easy access to clean syringes, arguing
that advocates of such policy do more harm than
Ms. Haller said government should be aggressively
reaching out to addicts with information about the
dangers of drug use, information that also should be
made available to the public at-large and children.
Drug use, she said, ought to be taboo.
“This over the counter stuff violates that taboo,”
In the wake of the more than two-thirds override
vote by both the Senate and House, AIDS Action
Committee of Massachusetts Executive Director
Rebecca Haag said the result would be lives that are
saved, a reduction in new infections and millions in
savings for the state in health care costs.
State data show 39 percent of people with HIV/AIDS
in Massachusetts infected directly or indirectly by
a dirty needle.
In vetoing the Pharmacy Access bill, Mr. Romney said
unintended consequences could outweigh any benefits
Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey raised the possibility of an
increase in the careless discarding of needles. She
also said new cases of AIDS and HIV blamed on shared
needles fell from an annual percentage of 32.8 in
1997 to 15.7 in 2004. Meanwhile, she said, the
number of people hospitalized annually because of
heroin use nearly doubled in that time period and
the annual number of fatal overdoses more than
Ms. Bloom said Ms. Healey’s comments surprised her.
“I don’t know where she is getting this information,
because it’s completely inaccurate,” Ms. Bloom said.
Ms. Bloom said a proposal to place drop boxes for
used needles throughout Worcester would complement
the needle bill.
Ms. Haller, however, isn’t so sure. And as chair of
the City Council’s health committee, she will have a
lot of say over what happens to the Operation Yellow
“To target five areas of the city for these boxes, I
think, is inappropriate,” she said. “I have yet to
be convinced that we can encourage addicts now
leaving syringes in our parks and flower pots and
bushes that they should now leave them in a yellow
box. Let’s put them everywhere, if that’s what we’re
Ms. Bloom said many of those needles are discarded
improperly simply because up to now they have been
illegal and addicts could not risk being caught with