Counties Seek Needle Exchanges to Reduce Harm, Protect Health

Counties across the state are looking towards local needle exchange services to help protect against the spread of infectious diseases and to help connect people suffering from addiction with education and treatment services.

From The Baltimore Sun:

The efforts are being lead locally and are at various stages of formation, but state officials are encouraging the programs and offering technical assistance and some funding, said Onyeka Anaedozie, deputy director of the Maryland Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Prevention and Health Services Bureau.

“We’ve talked to leadership in the jurisdictions about the importance of having a standing syringe services program,” she said. “We want the efforts lead by the local jurisdictions.”

The counties in some stage of planning or at least consideration include Anne Arundel and Baltimore in the metro area, Frederick and Washington in Western Maryland, Dorchester on the Eastern Shore and Prince George’s near Washington, D.C. Baltimore City currently has the state’s only operating program, launched in 1994. It relies largely on mobile units, which provide services in 16 locations around the city 26 times a week.

The growing acceptance of needle exchange reflects changing attitudes toward the often controversial programs, which critics say use taxpayer dollars to promote drug use and cause drug users to congregate at exchange sites. While the Baltimore program has been around for years, the state passed legislation only last year allowing the programs to be established elsewhere around the state. The Republican-controlled Congress also passed a law early last year allowing federal funds to be used for needle exchange.

Needle programs in some Maryland counties could be up and running by year’s end or early next year and are expected to offer clean syringes to users, disease testing and counseling and referral for treatment for infections and substance abuse, Anaedozie said. Some drug users not yet ready for treatment could still get needles and perhaps a dose of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The counties have been working to get backing from local law enforcement and elected officials as well as neighborhoods and treatment communities — a requirement by the health officials in the state, which passed a law last year allowing expansion of needle exchanges around Maryland.

MACo supported the bill to expand needle exchange programs in 2016 with amendments to the “local option” authority. A MACo representative was added to the Syringe Services Program Standing Advisory Committee to help give local governments a voice in the oversight of the programs. The Advisory Committee, Chaired by Deputy Secretary for Public Health Dr. Howard Haft, is charged with providing consultation to DHMH on regulations guiding implementation of Syringe Services Programs as well as providing technical assistance to programs on developing operating procedures, community outreach and education plans, and a protocol for linking program participants to substance-related disorder treatment and recovery services. MACo is represented on the Advisory Committee by Associate Director Natasha Mehu.

Read The Baltimore Sun for more information.

Related coverage from Conduit Street:

MACo Supports Drug Outreach Programs; Advocates for Local Option

Syringe Advisory Committee Commences Work

Federal Government Lifts Ban on Needle Exchange Funding

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