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Holyoke Votes Against Needle Exchange, Program Remains

NeedlesHOLYOKE, Mass. (WGGB) -In the year and a half since they started the program, Tapestry Health has seen over 48,000 needles exchanged. The primary focus of needle exchange is for drug users to trade in their used needles for clean ones, to prevent the spread of diseases.  “Holyoke has one of the highest cases of HIV in the state, and it’s almost all because of injection needle use, and sharing,” said Timothy Purington, Director of Prevention Services at Tapestry Health.

What Purington would like to see is for this needle exchange to continue, so that rate decreases.

He says in the time that they’ve implemented the program, they’ve already seen a significant improvement in places like parks where needles were often times improperly discarded.

Yet Purington still finds that people don’t really understand how the program works, nor what kind of impact it has on the community.  “Tuesday’s vote was very encouraging in that, compared to a decade ago; more residents are now in favor of needle exchange than they were many years ago,” said Mayor Alex Morse.

Although the city voted the referendum down by 200 votes, it’s up to the Board of Health to determine what happens next.  “We have a three member Board of Health Commission that voted unanimously 3-0 to initiate and implement the program. I’ll look to them for more guidance,” Morse added.

“We’re going to continue to provide services. We’ve had approval from the Board of Health and mayor. Until something changes, we’re going to continue doing what we do,” stated Purington.

In the meantime, tapestry will continue to work on outreach, and helping those on their way to recovery.

Injection drug use accounts for 30% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Western Mass, it accounts for just 12% statewide.

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