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Springfield to hold public hearing to reconsider needle exchange program nearly 20 years after defeat

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal for a needle exchange program in Springfield that was rejected by the City Council and voters nearly 20 years ago is back for consideration and a public hearing next week.

The city’s Public Health Council has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Central Library, 220 State St., to consider if Springfield should have a needle exchange program.

The program involves accepting used hypodermic needles in exchange for clean ones, and is intended to reduce the spread of the HIV virus and other disease.

In November 1998, the City Council rejected a pilot needle exchange program by a 5-4 vote just days after city residents rejected the program in a non-binding Election Day vote. Voters rejected the program by a margin of 60.8 to 39.2 percent.

The program was considered again by the City Council in 2005, failing again by a 5-4 vote.

Wednesday’s public hearing is to “take testimony as to whether or not the city of Springfield wants to engage in a syringe access program,” said Helen Caulton-Harris, the city’s commissioner of health and human services. The health council wants to hear from both proponents and opponents of the program, she said.

“The opioid crisis has really brought this (issue) back around again to really make sure we have prevention and intervention strategies including syringe access to combat the opioid crisis,” Caulton-Harris said. “The city of Springfield has had a long history of attempting to implement a syringe access program, and now we have an opportunity to fulfill that desire.”

The Public Health Council will accept public written testimony until Feb. 9. Caulton-Harris said. After that, the Public Health Council will meet and take a vote on whether or not to recommend the needle exchange program, she said.

Opponents of needle exchange programs have said that it encourages drug use and sends the wrong message to youth and believe the focus should be on other prevention and intervention…

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