By Zendelle Bouchard
The controversial needle exchange program run in Sanford by Maine Access Points (MAP), has been temporarily shut down pending relocation to a new site. The program was operating out of a mobile unit at the corner of Heritage Crossing and Weaver Drive. At the City Council meeting on July 18, 2023, owners and employees of Rand & Company at the Sanford Mill described in detail how their business has been adversely impacted by substance users and trash due to the proximity of MAP, and pleaded for help. The area has since been cleaned up. (See this week’s City Council Meeting Report for more on the cleanup.)
City Manager Steve Buck told the City Council on August 1, 2023, that he met with representatives of MAP earlier that day, in what he said was “a much more productive meeting than he anticipated.” A new location for the mobile needle exchange program will be identified, subject to City Council approval, but it will be a short-term solution. In the long term, the program will be housed in a permanent bricks-and-mortar space. Buck said Sanford Police Department Deputy Chief Eric Small and OPTIONS Clinician Lacey Bailey of the Mental Health Unit have tentatively located a space, but the details have not been finalized.
Mayor Becky Brink said having the program housed inside a facility of some kind will make it easier to offer counseling to clients when they are ready for it.
Buck also reported that Will Hurley, the Director of Harm Reduction for MAP, is no longer with the organization following comments he made at the July 18 City Council meeting. Hurley’s replacement, a MAP senior management team member, will renew the connection with the MHU and actively participate in the City’s Homelessness Task Force.
MAP will also partner with the City on possible grant applications for the implementation of sharps disposal containers. Buck said he is asking for information from Maine CDC as well as from the cities of Portland, Lewiston, Auburn and Bangor, which have used the containers, before bringing any proposal to the Council.
He said he spoke to Bangor officials about their needle exchange program, which is not run by MAP, and found that they were experiencing a similar problem with huge numbers of discarded syringes in public places. Buck told Council members this problem is due to changes in the state rules governing needle exchange programs. Initially, programs like MAP were set up as a one-to-one exchange; but rule changes now allow one-to-100 swaps. In other words, a substance user can bring in one used syringe and receive 100 new ones in exchange. The goal of the programs is to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis by making clean syringes freely available, but “the discarded needles are causing another level of health crisis, which is the contamination of public property and public areas,” he said.