House gives initial approval to McDonald bill to expand access to syringe exchange services

Wed, 03/09/2022 - 7:15pm

AUGUSTA — The Maine House gave initial approval Wednesday to a proposal by Rep. Genevieve McDonald, D-Stonington, that would prevent the spread of preventable infections by allowing syringe exchange programs to provide Mainers affected by substance use disorder with additional sterile supplies. The vote was 77-54.

As amended, LD 1909 would allow the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to increase by rulemaking the number of sterile hypodermic apparatuses that may be provided by a syringe exchange program. Under current state regulations, syringe exchange programs are only allowed to distribute one sterile syringe for every syringe returned.

“2021 was the deadliest year in Maine’s opioid epidemic. This crisis requires a sharper focus on harm reduction and treatment,” said Rep. McDonald. “We can and must do better, for the people struggling with addiction, for their families, children and the people who love them, and for our state and communities. Expanding access to sterile supplies through syringe service programs will save taxpayer dollars, prevent needless suffering and ultimately save lives.”

According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine had the second highest rate of acute hepatitis B and tenth highest rate of hepatitis C in the nation in 2017. Research shows that syringe exchange programs are effective in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C infections and also save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating and combatting the spread of these preventable diseases.

“The opposite of addiction is connection, and syringe service programs often serve as the first place where someone using drugs connects with harm reduction services, recovery support and treatment,” said Rep. McDonald. “These programs build relationships with local medical providers and support services, putting them in a unique position to connect people to the help they need when they are ready. These connections can and do lead to long-term recovery.”

LD 1909 faces additional votes in the coming weeks.

McDonald, a member of the Marine Resources Committee, is serving her second term in the Maine House. She represents the Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Vinalhaven and Marshall Island Township.