State Rep. Ann Fredericks requests resolution to reform Maine’s Syrinx exchange program

Maine Rep. Ann Fredericks (R-Sanford) has filed a request for a resolution during the second legislative session that would direct the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MECDC) to reformulate one-on-one syringe exchanges. Request program.

MECDC partners with multiple nonprofits across the state to provide individuals with sterile hypodermic needles in exchange for dirty needles to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases and encourage safe sharps disposal.

An executive order signed by Governor Janet Mills in March 2020 eliminated the one-to-one needle exchange requirement, meaning MECDC partners can essentially provide syringes to individuals abusing substances for free without taking dirty needles out of the community.

According to a state report on the syringe services program, nearly 7,000 people participated in the program in 2022, and a total of about 2.3 million new syringes were distributed — more than 300 per person.

In 2020 and 2021, more syringes were distributed than needles were collected—the state’s syringe services program distributed more than 2.5 million needles in 2020 alone.

In Rep. Fredericks’ Sanford district, the nonprofit Maine Access Points ran a syringe service program until local business owners expressed disapproval of the program to the Sanford City Council in July. The program was shut down after concerns.

(related: Sanford suspends syringe exchange program, clears homeless encampments…)

Fredericks, a licensed practical nurse and a member of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, told MaineWire in an interview Monday that the Maine access point syringe exchange program is not working as expected. .

“This program is supposed to provide wound care, primary care and all kinds of care for recovering patients,” Fredericks said. “It should take back dirty needles, provide clean needles — have some accountability for who receives what needle, and so on.”

“What they observed – without thinking about anything,” she explained. “Only clean clothes are distributed, no dirty items are taken away, and no one is identified.”

Fredericks explained that while some of the organizations that partner with MECDC for syringe exchanges are health-based, such as Tri-County Mental Health Services, others are “peer recovery programs,” such as Maine Access Point.

To join the syringe service program, participants must be 18 years or older, but the program has no “compelling way” to require participants to provide identification to prove their age, Fredericks said.

In July, Bangor awarded $29,000 to the Alliance for Health Equity, the organization that runs the syringe exchange, to hire a part-time needle collector to collect used and discarded needles they distribute.

“We are working hard to reduce the spread of HIV, the spread of hepatitis or the spread of viruses from dirty needles,” said Rep. Fredericks. “Well, now I’m hiring you to clean up the mess, so now we’re putting you at the highest risk.”

“We’re going to hire you and you just stick it out. It just doesn’t make sense,” she added.

In 2020, Maine ranked first in the nation for acute hepatitis C cases and second for acute hepatitis B cases, Fredericks said.

“These numbers are going down since 2020. That’s good news,” Fredericks said. “The bad news: Chronic hepatitis B continues to surge in Maine.”

“Right now, that doesn’t make sense,” she said. “On the CDC website, it shows that 53% of people with chronic hepatitis B were born outside the United States.”

“That means people are going to come in with it,” the state representative added. “That’s what it means. Plus, it tells you that your acupuncture session may not be as effective as it should be.”

During an Oct. 4 Health and Human Services Committee hearing, Rep. Fredericks questioned newly appointed MECDC Director Dr. Puthiery Va about the state’s growing hepatitis numbers and syringe service plans.

(related: New Maine CDC director recommends masks and latest COVID-19 booster to everyone 6 months and older…)

Rep. Fredericks said the goal of her resolution is to re-establish the process of collecting dirty syringes before distributing clean syringes — a program originally established in Portland from 1998 to 2020.

“I think we have a loose program with little oversight,” she said. “We should be recommending programs so you can find people in recovery, referring active users to primary care, mental health, wound care — but that’s not happening.”

Fredericks also sought to address the disparity between certain districts in Maine that can only participate in syringe exchanges run by peer recovery programs and those that can participate in health-based programs.

“There doesn’t appear to be standardization in our approach, so that begs the question: Are we confident in providing care?” she said. “Why do we have apples here and oranges there?”

“Because it begs the question, our methods are not standardized and don’t you think these need more oversight?” she added.

Fredericks told MaineWire on Monday that she doesn’t expect the proposed changes to the syringe exchange program to have the governor’s support, but she believes it will require bipartisan support.

“I hope people can see how we can solve the problem that this leaves behind, you know, not collecting dirty needles — they’re on park benches, on beaches, on sidewalks,” she said.

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