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Policy & Politics

Mass. Governor Opposes Nonprescription Sale of Hypodermic Needles Despite Support From State Health Dept., Legal Officials

May 6, 2005

A spokesperson for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) on Wednesday said that the governor opposes legislation (SB 1312) authorizing the nonprescription sale of hypodermic needles as a means of reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other bloodborne diseases in the state, despite the state Department of Public Health's support for the measure, the Boston Globe reports. Legislation that would authorize nonprescription sales of hypodermic needles also would require the state to ensure that diabetics with conditions requiring the use of hypodermic needles continue to have health insurance coverage for the devices. The measure on Wednesday at a state Legislature Joint Committee on Public Health meeting also received "robust support" from Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley and Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole. However, Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom said that "[t]he position of the governor and the lieutenant governor is we don't want to do anything that facilitates illegal drug use." He added, "If you allow addicts easy access to the tools of the trade, you are facilitating illegal drug use." However, Fehrnstrom said it is "too early in the process" to say if the governor would veto the legislation if it were approved by the state Legislature. Coakley said she found "uniform support" among police officials in her district for legalizing nonprescription sales, according to the Globe. "If we deny [injection drug users] a clean needle, they're going to use a dirty one, and they're going to infect themselves and others. How can we, as an enlightened and compassionate society, tolerate that?" Conley asked. The committee did not vote on the measure on Wednesday, but members appeared to "favor it overwhelmingly," the Globe reports (Smith, Boston Globe, 5/5). About 39% of HIV cases in Massachusetts are linked to injection drug use, the AP/Fosters Daily Democrat reports (AP/Fosters Daily Democrat, 5/5).

Several newspapers have published editorials in response to the proposal to allow the nonprescription sales of needles. Summaries of two editorials appear below.

  • Boston Globe: Romney should end his opposition to nonprescription sales of hypodermic needles and needle-exchange programs in the state because such programs have been shown to be "useful to prevent disease," a Globe editorial says. Although endorsing needle-exchange programs can be "controversial," studies have shown that the percentage of new HIV cases transmitted via shared needles "drops precipitously" when such programs are implemented, the editorial says. "No responsible official would condone illegal drug use, but the need to prevent the spread of this disease should outweigh disapproval of destructive behavior, especially since such disapproval has so little impact," the editorial concludes (Boston Globe, 5/6).

  • Boston Herald: In addition to helping prevent the spread of HIV through shared needles, approving nonprescription sales of needles "costs taxpayers virtually nothing and ... could save on Medicaid costs by reducing the spread of disease," a Herald editorial says. "A smart politician keeps his political options open," while a "selfish one makes decisions at the expense of the citizens he is supposed to serve," the Herald says, concluding, "Romney is making the wrong choice" (Boston Herald, 5/6).

Back to other news for May 6, 2005

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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