HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Your state tax money no longer supports Tapestry Health’s Needle Exchange Program in Holyoke.
As of July 1st, the service has been privately funded.
“We’re willing to do whatever it takes really to make sure the services continue,” said Cheryl Zoll, CEO of Tapestry Health. Since 2012, the state Department of Public Health funded the pilot program as a way, in part, for drug addicts to prevent the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV. Tapestry said the program is much more than exchanging needles. They offer prevention and treatment services for people suffering with drug addiction, which, Zoll stressed, is a mental health issue.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and his Department of Public Health approved the program, but Holyoke City Council President Kevin Jourdain argued in court that the city council should make that decision.
On March 14th, Hampden Superior Court Judge Mark Mason ordered that unless city councilors voted within 120 days, Tapestry Health would have to stop the non-sale distribution of needles. That deadline was July 12th and Holyoke city councilors never voted.
Tapestry Health instead pulled its standing as a pilot program, relying now on private funds. “The law is very explicit about restrictions on DPH pilot needle exchange programs, but there is nothing in the law that says otherwise, people can’t distribute syringes,” said Zoll. She said they will do anything they can to ensure that services are always provided to those in need.
Jourdain claims that’s not legal and said he will fight this in court if necessary as well. “Basically by this argument, anybody could operate a needle exchange, no regulation of DPH, making sure this is even operated in a medically safe manner,” Jourdain told 22News.
Mayor Morse said Governor Charlie Baker just enacted an amendment clarifying local public health departments have authority over needle exchanges.
“With the governor signing it into law, it’s very clear as to who approves needle exchange programs, and that’s the board of health, so moving forward what I see is a needle exchange program operating in Tapestry Health in partnership with DPH,” said Mayor Morse.
Tapestry Health still operates a state-funded needle exchange that’s been running out of Northampton for twenty years.