By Anthony Fay
July 11, 2012
Holyoke and state health officials have approved a plan to allow a needle exchange program in that city; making it one of only two communities in western Massachusetts with such a program.
Tapestry Health announced Wednesday that they have been given permission to expand their needle exchange program to Holyoke. The health care provider currently operates the region’s only other such program, in Northampton.
Under the program, users of intravenous drugs can bring in dirty needles, and be provided with sterile ones in exchange. The program also provides services like HIV, Hepatitis C, and STD testing, disease and addiction counseling, and referral to treatment. The program operates out of Tapestry’s Holyoke office at 15A Main Street.
The goal of the effort is to cut the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Sharing of infected needles is one of the leading causes of HIV infection, accounting for 32% of new cases in Holyoke (a much higher percentage than the 12% statewide average).
Needle exchange programs have been controversial, and are only in place in five communities statewide (including Northampton and Holyoke). Critics of needle exchange claim that that they condone drug use. Federal funding to needle exchange programs was banned in the 1980’s. Though the ban was lifted in 2009, it was re-instated in 2011.
The Holyoke needle exchange program was approved unanimously by the Holyoke Board of Health and Mayor Alex Morse, and authorized by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
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