HOLYOKE, Mass. (WGGB) — The future of Holyoke’s needle exchange program was the subject of a court hearing on Thursday.
The city council went to court seeking a temporary injunction to halt the needle exchange program which has been in effect since August.
Attorney John O’Neill, a former city councilor, represented the council. “We’ve asked the judge today to issue the preliminary injunction because the state law that allows for the needle exchange program explicitly requires local approval, local approval as defined under the law as in a city requiring a vote of the city council,” says O’Neill.
However, Holyoke City Solicitor Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross argued that the board of health and the mayor’s approval of the program was enough, that city council approval wasn’t necessary.
Attorney William Neuman represented Tapestry Health which runs the program. He says halting the program would hurt the city and its residents.
“The needle exchange program is working, it’s getting needles off the street, it’s making the police safer as the police chief testified, it is getting people into rehabilitation programs, it is in fact making the streets and the city safer so shutting it down endangers the safety of the city,” says Neuman.
Tapestry Health’s Tim Purrington says public health is at stake. “Holyoke has the third highest rate of HIV because of injection drug use in the state, and by stopping the program it could continue that trajectory causing more infections of HIV and hepatitis,” says Purrington.
Meanwhile Attorney O’Neill says the harm would be to what he called the interests of the citizens of Holyoke through their voice in electing city councilors. “These plaintiffs have been vested by the citizens of Holyoke at the voting booth with the sole right to exercise the legislative authority within the city. They’ve had that right taken away from them,” says Attorney O’Neill.
The judge took the arguments under advisement asking both parties for more information on what the city charter says legislative authority.