Needle exchange program to remain open during court proceedings - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Needle exchange program to remain open during court proceedings

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A Superior Court judge denied a request by the Holyoke City Council to shut down the city's needle exchange program while the legality of the program's implementation is pending.

"The judge said a number of things in the ruling, the most important of which is in my judgment that the needle exchange program performs a vitally important public health function and therefore he was not going to interfere with that while the litigation continues," said the William Newman, director at the Western Mass Legal Office for the ACLU.

"The mayor of Holyoke acted illegally - created a needle exchange without our approval," said City Council President Kevin Jourdain.

But, the judge also said that city councilors have a strong case moving forward.

"I think the judge did an exceptional job in going through point by point on all the legal questions and ruled in our favor on every single one of them," Jourdain said.

City councilors filed the lawsuit against several parties including Mayor Alex Morse and the Holyoke Board of Health after they opened the program back in July without gaining approval from the City Council.

"Needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce HIV transmission among drug users, and Holyoke has one of the highest rates in the state," said the Director of Preventative Services at Tapestry Health Timothy Purington.

The program works with drug users to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C by exchanging used needles for new ones. Purington says that in the months since the program was initiated more than 200 people have enrolled in the program.

"We've actually brought more needles off the street than we've distributed," said Purington. "So, there's less needles on the street than there were before the program began."

But, Jourdain says this suit is not about the program rather about the legality of the way it was instated.

"I continue to remain opposed to the creation of a needle exchange program in Holyoke but this suit is not about that," said Jourdain. "This suit is about making sure that the proper legal process is followed and that the authority of the City Council as dually elected by the citizens of the city is enforced."

The next major step in this case will be a summary judgment hearing, but officials say that will likely be months down the road.

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