Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) vetoed a bill last Friday that would have allowed the sale of syringes without a prescription, saying it could lead to increased heroin use. The bill had easily passed in the Democratic legislature, where supporters argued it would reduce the risk of infection from HIV and other blood-borne diseases. The measure passed both chambers by large enough margins that the legislature should be able to override the veto.
Romney said the bill, while well-intentioned, would do more harm than good. "We believe that upon further review of the bill, some of the unintended consequences could be more severe than the benefits of signing the bill," said Romney, who held a press conference to issue a statement announcing the veto.
With Romney considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who is running to replace Romney, joining him at the press conference, the odor of election year politics hung over the veto. Romney and Healey argued that with a decline in the number of new HIV and AIDS cases caused by sharing dirty needles and the rise in heroin overdose deaths, the law was not needed. Needle sharing accounted for 15.7% of new cases in 2004, down from 32.8% in 1997, while heroin overdose deaths in the same period have jumped from 178 to 574.
"We cannot in good conscience say we should make more needles available to heroin addicts," said Healey, who raised the specter of a child "standing next to a drug addict in the checkout line at CVS who is there to buy more needles to feed his or her addiction."
Democratic gubernatorial contenders immediately lashed out at Romney and Healey. Deval Patrick told the Boston Herald Romney and Healey "put misguided ideology before leadership in public health," while Chris Gabrieli said the two are "less interested in science and reason, and more interested in rigid partisan ideology."
They were joined in their criticism by Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, who said Healey's argument is flawed. "All scientific evidence indicates that the availability of clean needles does not lead to increased drug use. There is study after study after study which we have given to the administration to that effect," said Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.
Now it's up to the legislature to override the veto.