“Last year more than 48 bills were submitted to address the opioid crisis and its consequences. Sure, not all of them were very good. Yeah, some of them were downright abominable. But the question here is: How many of them made it through? We have brought legislation to provide public funding for syringe exchange services for THREE YEARS IN A ROW. But the one time it did survive a veto, the fiscal note was cut, making it ultimately ineffectual. Meanwhile, syringe service programs continue to struggle year after year. And some don’t make it, leaving gaping holes in services, as in Lewiston where the syringe exchange operating there was forced to close its doors due to financial constraints this past September. If we are in the midst of a drug crisis, syringe exchange is a vital part of the solution. It has the unique privilege of both saving lives AND saving money.”
– Testimony of Kenney Miller, Executive Director of Health Equity Alliance (HEAL)
This bill would have allocated $75,000 to fund syringe exchange programs that are a proven method to curb the spread of preventable, infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C, which is dangerously on the rise in Maine due to the opioid epidemic. Currently, Maine’s needle exchange programs are dramatically underfunded.
The opioid epidemic has been closely tracked in Maine. Less well-publicized has been the rise in cases of acute hepatitis C, which increased by 228% between 2013-2014 in Maine and has continued to rise since. In 2016, Maine’s rate of acute hepatitis C was almost six times the national average. Safe syringe exchange programs are tried-and-true, tested ways to reduce rates of HIV, hepatitis C, and other injection-related ailments. They also serve as important sites of intervention, where people using drugs can gain access to treatment and other harm-reduction practices.
LAW: Gov. LePage vetoed this bill, and his veto was overridden.