October 9, 2002
Despite strong objections from town leaders, the Vermont Department of Health has decided to allow the Vermont CARES needle exchange program to remain open in St. Johnsbury. In a letter dated last Thursday to Town Manager Mike Welch, DOH Commissioner Jan Carney stated she believes Vermont CARES made efforts to deal with the public and inform residents about the program, as mandated by Health Department guidelines.
Welch said what Carney used to make those determinations is unclear. "I would like to know what she used to demonstrate that they exerted effort," he said. Carney conceded those efforts did not achieve the intended result of making town officials and the public more aware of what was planned. "In addition," stated the letter, "the Department of Health's review of the application did not go far enough to assure that the advisory group has engaged the Selectboard and the community as a whole in this process."
Vermont CARES Executive Director Kendall Farrell had not seen the letter late Monday afternoon. "Our stance hasn't really changed," she said. The staff, she added, is still doing everything in its power to make the program a success. Program organizers say providing access to clean syringes prevents those who might otherwise inject heroin and other drugs with dirty needles from contracting hepatitis C and HIV. Some community members have expressed concerns that providing drug addicts with needles may send a mixed message to young adults.
Efforts made to reach the public since the program started may have made up for the shortfalls in communication beforehand, Carney wrote. "I believe your recent efforts, and those of Vermont CARES, have greatly remedied the communication deficiency evident in this case," she wrote. Carney recommended that Vermont CARES hold a series of open community meetings for civic groups and residents. She also recommended the Selectboard send a delegate to needle exchange community advisory board meetings.