Giving a very close reading to Massachusetts statutes regulating the sale of hypodermic needles and authorizing the Public Health Department to set up needle exchange programs, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled on June 14 that there was no legal impediment to a private, non-profit group setting up a free needle-exchange program without the specific approval of local government authorities. The ruling came in response to an attempt by the Town of Barnstable to shut down a free needle exchange program in Hyannis, on Cape Cod, started by the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, referred to throughout Justice Barbara Lenk’s opinion for the Court as ASGCC. AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Inc. v. Town of Barnstable, SJC-12224, 2017 Mass. LEXIS 391, 2017 WL 2582663 (June 14, 2017).
ASGCC started its “free hypodermic needle access program” in 2009, which it has been operating in Hyannis, Provincetown, and Falmouth. The program is intended to help reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C by making sure that injectable drug users have clean needles and no need to share used needles. ASGCC made no attempt to get approval for their program by the local town government, probably anticipating that it would be controversial and likely denied.