Holyoke Mayor and City Council President Disagree on Needle Exchange

The mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts is standing by a newly established needle exchange in the city, after the city council president complained the program was not legally enacted. 

According to Massachusetts law, a municipality can enact a needle exchange program as long as it has local approval. Earlier this month, the city’s board of health voted unanimously to make the Holyoke the fifth community in Massachusetts to do so  — a decision that had support from the police chief and was approved by Mayor Alex Morse. Health workers from Tapestry Health have already started giving out clean needles to I-V drug users, with the hope it will slow down the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, as well as prevent accidental needle sticks in public spaces. But City Council President Kevin Jourdain — who opposes needle exchange — says the city council should have been part of the local approval process. Jourdain could not be reached for this story, but he told the Springfield Republican newspaper that he thought the mayor was ‘sneaky’ in approving the program. But Mayor Morse says he agrees with the city solicitor’s finding that the council has no jurisdiction in the matter. He added that putting it before the city council risks politicizing a public health issue, which he says is “completely inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts public health commissioner John Auerbach released a statement saying the state looks forward to working with Holyoke on its needle exchange program, which he says has been proven effective against the spread of HIV.