Maine’s needle exchange program requires users to turnover one used needle in order to get one clean needle.
But at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order ending the 1-to-1 redemption of needles, meaning the State was actually funding the introduction of new needles into drug-using communities without taking dirty needles off the streets.
That order theoretically ended when the State of Emergency concluded at the end of June 2021, but at least one Bangor area needle exchange program is not enforcing the 1-to-1 redemption.
Penobscot County has two non-profits that work with the State to facilitate the needle exchange programs. One is the Maine Health Equity Center, the other is Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.
The Maine Health Equity Center will provide drug users with sterile syringes, free-basing kits, and rubber straps to wrap around their arms so veins are easier to find, according to the Center’s website.
An employee at the Center who answered the syringe hotline said users can get a “starter pack” containing 100 clean needles without providing used needles. And although the Center encourages clients to return those needles once they are used, it’s not required in order to get more clean needles.
“It’s not required, but we highly encourage it so we can make sure they’re disposed of correctly,” she said.
The site doesn’t say how many needles it has handed out since Mills executive order ended the 1-to-1 redemption rule.
Now, Bangor officials are struggling to clean up surplus hypodermic needles that have been strewn throughout the city. They want to create and fund a plan to clean up the multitude of needles now scattered throughout parks, sidewalks, and other public spaces, according to a report in the Bangor newspaper.
“The goal is to bring attention to the issue and get action from the state government to recognize that it is an issue,” Bangor public health director Patty Hamilton told the paper.
“My hope is that they consider fully funding the syringe services programs to do that work,” she said.