Needle Exchange

Worcester overdoses by year:

2004 – 115

2005 – 116

2006 – 96

2007 – 119

2008 – 189

2009 – 256

2010 – 271

2011 – 257

2012 – 382

2013 – 447

2014 – 712

Note the increase in overdoses from 96 in 2006 to 712 in 2014.

 In 2006, the legislature, by one vote, over the veto of then Governor Romney passed a bill allowing for the over the counter sale of needles.

City Manager, Ed Augustus was a State Senator at that time and was the deciding vote on the override.


Newspaper articles from 2006 –

Boston Globe, January 8, 2006, “Addicted to Saving Lives”

A bill moving through the state Legislature would decriminalize possession of a hypodermic needle and allow people 18 and older to purchase them from pharmacies.

. . .

Reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C is at the root of the bill, said supporters.

''The costs of unnecessary disease transmission continue to rise, and we're looking for a smart public health policy solution to save taxpayers money," said Barrios, who represents parts of Boston and several suburbs north of the city. According to the International AIDS Society, the estimated lifetime treatment cost for someone with HIV/AIDS is $405,000.

Not all officials, however, believe the bill should be passed.

''I think there's a potential downside, and it could lead to increased heroin use," said Lynn Police Chief John Suslak, whose city is a major distribution point for heroin on the North Shore. ''I think it sends a mixed message to the kids in general about how serious the state is in preventing the use of drugs, when, in fact, they're going to make it legal for anyone to go into any pharmacy and buy a needle."


Telegram and Gazette, July 24, 2006 “Lawmakers Override Needle Veto”

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 legal.

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 other states.”

. . .

In vetoing the Pharmacy Access bill, Mr. Romney said unintended consequences could outweigh any benefits of passage.

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 tripled.

The purpose of the law was to sell needles over-the-counter to reduce HIV and hepatitis C.

Now we are hearing the same plan relative to the needle exchange with the same cost saving argument. Wasn’t this over-the-counter sales program going to reduce HIV and hepatitis C?

“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” [above]

According to the Worcester Division of Public Health’s presentation on November 3, 2015, men aged 20-25 have had an increase in hepatitis C of 137%. So it appears the legalization of the sale of needles did not have the desired or predicted effect.

 I think there's a potential downside, and it could lead to increased heroin use," [above]

“Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey raised the possibility of an increase in the careless discarding of needles.” [above]

The result of the law is clear, in 2006 – 96 overdoses, in 2014 – 712 overdoses an increase of 742%.

And now the argument for needle exchange is to reduce the number of discarded needles, exactly what then Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey said would happen with the legalization of the sale of needles.

On June 23, 2015, I filed the following requests for information:

“Request data from 2000 to 2014 relative to the number of Hepatitis C and AIDS cases resulting from the use of contaminated needles that were reported in the City of Worcester.”

“Request data from 2000 to 2014 relative to incidents of death resulting from drug overdoses in the City of Worcester.” [Unfortunately, my request should have been more specific as to overdoses relating to injected drugs]

I renewed my request for the above information on November 3, 2015.

It is now 146 days since my initial request and I still have not received a response. Will I receive the data a few hours before the meeting? Does the data exist? And if it does exist, does it support the premise advanced? Why haven’t I received it? Shouldn’t it be readily available if the proper review of the data had been conducted? The premise is increased incidents of HIV and hepatitis C, the opposite of what we were told would happen by legalizing the sale of needles.

The opponents of over the counter sale of needles back in 2006 advised that legalization would result in increased drug use and discarded needles. They were absolutely correct.

Now we find ourselves in an opioid epidemic. Overdoses have increased 742% as the means to inject an extremely cheap and addicting drug were put on the street by our lawmakers. And now we are being told that needle exchange will be the panacea of the discarded needles we find in our parks, playgrounds, library, City Hall, Union Station, and our streets. We were warned in 2006 that this would occur.

Instead of admitting failure and taking responsibility for the crime, destruction of families, and death, our lawmakers, the same people that assured us that the legalization of needle sales wouldn’t result in an opioid epidemic, have blamed everyone except themselves for the opioid epidemic from doctors to parents. Are there other factors and drugs, yes. But, the data is clear, within 2 years of the legalization of needle sales, overdoses increased 2 times, within 10 years, overdoses increase nearly 7 ½ times.

Now the same groups want to double down on the same failed policies and hand out needles to addicts with the proviso that they would be advising those suffering from addiction that they need treatment. This is a farcical notion. Everyone can agree that handing a loaded gun to a person contemplating suicide while advising them of the precious nature of life would be unconscionable. Handing out cigarettes to children while telling them not to smoke would be abject stupidity. Yet, handing out needles and telling addicts to get treatment is now supposedly a groundbreaking public health move? Of all the gifts from God that we receive as humans, why do we abandon our most powerful gift, common sense? Why do we refuse to learn the lesson that history has provided us?

Why do we throw out common sense and assume that an addict’s first priority is a clean needle? Clean needles are readily available for purchase now at any pharmacy. The argument advanced by the proponents of needle exchange is that HIV and hepatitis C has not been reduced as we were told it would be by legalization of the sale of needle, so do they have any credibility on this issue?

How many more Mr. Manager?