Landing soon on Gov. Mitt Romney's desk is legislation that would make the over-the-counter sale of hypodermic needles legal in Massachusetts. Could that be good for downtown Fitchburg?
The Gardner VNA's Fitchburg office has offered needle bleaching kits to drug users for years, creating a concentration of addicts downtown every day.
In 2004, Mayor Dan Mylott said in Commonwealth Magazine, "We don't feel that it has been helping in the reduction of addiction to injected drugs," says Mayor Dan Mylott. "We feel that what it has done is concentrate the whole population--or a majority of the population--of people who are using intravenous drugs into one part of Fitchburg. We don't think it's right. We don't think it's fair." (To read that whole fantastically-written and insightful story, click here
Advocates of the program, and of free-needle programs in general, argue these programs reduce the reuse of dirty needles, cutting down on the spread of HIV and other disease. Fair enough.
But now comes this legislation, which would make needles available at the local drugstore. In just a few minutes cozying up to Google, you can find 100 needles for $16 online. Let's say CVS is more expensive, and charges, who knows, 99 cents for a needle (we're not saying that's what a needle would cost, but if you can get a box of them for 16 cents each, doesn't 99 cents sound semi-reasonable? They certainly won't cost a fortune). That makes needles pretty readily available to anyone who wants one.
So, does that mean Gardner VNA quits its bleaching program? The city has been trying for a long time to change or eliminate that program. Wouldn't this be a good lever to reopen that issue, and perhaps end it? The only argument left would be cost, but is $1 really that prohibitive? If it is, doesn't that person have bigger problems than getting a free needle every day?
While the goal of the VNA program is noble and right, it is an issue for downtown. A handful of drug addicts coming by every day to maintain is not a good thing for any neighborhood, anywhere. Up until now, it's been a necessity (if you believe in that kind of thing, which we do), but this legislation changes the dynamics of the situation.
It appears unlikely Romney will sign the bill into law, but the override numbers appear to be in place. When (if) this becomes law, hopefully the city restarts a discussion with Gardner VNA and figures out a way to both elminate the daily build up downtown while making needle users are getting what they need.
Councilor Dean Tran is getting some serious mileage out of his sex offender residency restriction petition. FOX 25 had a piece earlier this week and the Boston Herald has a small brief buried in today's paper. The big hit, though, is the Metro cover story in the Boston Globe
(note the graphic inside with the jump. It details the restrictions around parks and schools. Unfortunately, day care centers aren't included, which assuredly would add a bevy of new circles over swaths of the city). The petition has put Fitchburg at the forefront of an issue, and helps make the city look forward-looking and protective of its citizens. It's been good media for Tran, and for the city.
We're on "Politically Speaking" tonight, 7 p.m., on FATV (Channel 8 on your cable box). We think a big tub of popcorn is in order to properly enjoy the high entertainment.