Both Sides See Hope in Holyoke Needle Exchange Ruling

Both sides are claiming a court victory in a fight over a needle exchange program in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

This summer, Mayor Alex Morse and the city’s board of health approved operation of a Main Street needle exchange center by the non-profit group Tapestry Health, WHICH HAS been operating since August. Now the city council is challenging the decision in court, saying the council’s approval is required.

This week Hampden COUNTY superior court judge Richard Carey denied the council’s request for an immediate injunction to shutter the exchange, while the case is pending. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Bill Newman, representing the city and Tapestry health, counts that as a win.

“I think it’s a comment on the importance of the needle exchange program itself and the success its had in protecting the public health and reducing the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C and othee serious diseases,” Newman said.

The judge’s denial of an injunction makes no specific mention of the needle exchange program’s importance, of HIV, or Hepatitis C. Instead it more narrowly found an injunction might unnecessarily disrupt an existing status quo – before the merits of the case were fully considered.

And on the question of whether the city council has ultimate authority, the judge found the IT is likely, ultimately, to win thAT point. State statute and the city’S charter, he wrote, show, quote, a “city council approving vote is required.”

City councilor Kevin Jourdain is focusing on that part of the decision.

“As I have said from Day One, the mayor had no authority to approve a needle exchange program without our approval, the judge agreed with us,” he said.

The ACLU’s Bill Newman says he still believes when the full case is heard, the program’s public benefits and the process which led to its opening will be upheld.