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Town reviewing needle exchange regs

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Recorder Staff
Friday, August 11, 2017

GREENFIELD — Despite a call for a tightening of local regulations for who can operate a needle exchange program, the town’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee held off moving a proposal forward Thursday night.

Council Vice President Isaac Mass, with Mayor William Martin beside him, was sounding the alarm because of a recent state Supreme Court decision that in loose terms allows for any individual to distribute clean needles citing a public health concern. Before that June decision, typically a town’s Board of Health had to approve someone to run a needle exchange program.

Mass told the committee that there needs to be a honing in on who can administer needle exchanges in town.

Hovering over the discussion was Tapestry Health’s role in needle exchange. A year ago Greenfield’s Board of Health approved the organization’s syringe access program that looks to help limit the spread of diseases and viruses like Hepatitis C and HIV. Since then, Tapestry Health has faced several roadblocks, primarily finding a location to run its program, whether that’s in a storefront downtown or out of its mobile RV.

While dealing with these hurdles the court decision does pull Tapestry Health’s program out from under the purview of the Board of Health. Mass though would like the issue to be back under Board of Health control, calling this a “public safety” concern.

At-Large Town Council Karen “Rudy” Renaud, who sits on the committee, was not buying Mass’ argument that Greenfield was facing an “emergency” situation.

“I don’t see this as an emergency,” Renaud said. “I don’t see a whole bunch of people setting up needle exchanges in the park.”

Renaud also was not pleased with not having the ordinance printed out before her. The proposal for committee vote for a positive recommendation to the Town Council was not on the meeting agenda, but simply an item for discussion.

The overall value of the needle exchange program has been challenged by Mass and Martin, despite Tapestry Health citing success examples in other towns where it runs the program. Mass first brought his proposed ordinance before the council in July, following the court decision and news that Tapestry Health would begin running its needle exchange program temporarily out of Community Action’s Family Center. Since then Tapestry Health is no longer operating out of the Federal Street location.

Committee members suggested bringing Tapestry officials into the conversation.

“I have no problem with Tapestry weighing on this because this wouldn’t affect them at all,” Mass said. “They are doing exactly what we want them to do. This puts us back to where we were at May.”

While Mass wanted the discussion to be moved to the full council, Renaud and her fellow committee members decided that the time wasn’t right to send the proposal along. A motion for a positive recommendation did not receive a second.

Frustrated with the direction of the committee, Mass asked what other information committee members would need to make a decision.

“The only question I’m hearing is what does an organization that has nothing to do with this have to say,” Mass said.

The mayor backed Mass, calling for the ordinance to move forward at a time when the Board of Health does not have any governance over needle exchange in the town.

“That creates a bit of an urgent situation,” Martin said. “For instance, if somebody wanted to sell hot dogs at the fair, they would have to get a permit.”

Martin raised the idea of someone taking a used needle, calling it a new needle and trying to give it out. He wants the Board of Health to have the right to oversee this.

The committee, instead, said it will invite not only Tapestry Health to come before the next Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting, but also per the recommendation of Mass, other organizations, chiefly, pharmacies, that distribute needles in town — CVS, Walgreens, Big Y and Stop and Shop.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264