The new state law allowing over-the-counter sales of hypodermic needles has caused plenty of controversy. But the latest clash is between those who agree on the issue. Worcester magazine has editorialized in favor of the law and, going further, for a needle-exchange program as an effective way to reduce the alarming spread of HIV among intravenous-drug users. A group of 10 Worcester activists favor exactly the same thing.
So why did the 10 activists feel it necessary to deface as many as 2000 copies of the latest issue of the publication, which features a cover story titled “The Path of the Needle”?
“The cover of last week’s Worcester magazine sensationalized a life-or-death issue,” says one of the participants, who asked that his name not be used. “We were all outraged at the cover and the substance of the article as well.”
The article, by staff writer Scott Zoback, looks at what might happen to the easily purchased needles after they are used — a piece of the puzzle, the article shows, that has not yet been adequately addressed, with the law set to take effect September 18.
The eye-catching cover features a hypodermic needle replacing the L in “Needle,” and the line: “What neighborhoods face when drugstores sell needles like cigarettes.”
The issue hit the streets last Thursday, and quickly riled up the 10 friends, who saw it as “fear-mongering” and playing into the hands of those opposed to the new law.
Some in their position would write letters to the editor complaining. They chose to change the cover.
On Friday and Saturday, the friends went out on foot, bicycle, and car with stickers carefully designed in Photoshop. Applied to the front of the magazine, the stickers added a brief phrase, so that the cover now read: “Less HIV infections is What neighborhoods face when drugstores sell needles like cigarettes.”
They claim to have added the stickers to 2000 of the 40,000 copies distributed around the city. Then they tipped off the Worcester Telegram, which reported the headline ambush on Tuesday.
All of this has simply drawn more attention to Worcester magazine’s coverage of an important topic, says its editor, Michael Warshaw. “This is exactly the kind of ruckus we’re looking for — and we encourage people to read the story,” he says. “The best thing we can do is advance the public dialogue, and we did.” Nevertheless, he prefers that future covers be left alone.