Associated Press - January 20, 2012
AUGUSTA -- Hypodermic needle exchange programs in Maine, which
collected more than a quarter- million syringes in a recent
12-month period, are running into serious funding problems
because of the overall poor economy, officials who oversee the
None of Maine's four exchange programs receives public funding,
but private grants and other donations are drying up.
"It is having an impact overall," said James Markiewicz of the
state Department of Health and Human Services' Division of
Infectious Diseases, which monitors the certified Hypodermic
Apparatus Exchange programs run from Augusta, Bangor, Ellsworth
The syringes are collected from injection drug users to prevent
the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. New needles
are then distributed to those who turn in used syringes.
The state Center for Disease Control and Prevention says 260,050
syringes were collected and disposed of through the four programs
during the 12-month period that ended Oct. 31.
State law requires reports on the program to be filed annually
with the Legislature's committees on Judiciary and Health and
Human Services. A report is due this month.
The Bangor-based eastern Maine AIDS Network reported the largest
number of syringes collected, 94,505. The totals for the other
regions were: Portland 92,043, Ellsworth 38,629 and Augusta
Portland's certified program is run by the city. The other
programs are the Down East AIDS program in Ellsworth, Eastern
Maine AIDS Network in Bangor and HealthReach Harm Reduction in
The totals for syringes distributed through the program were on a
par with the numbers collected: Bangor 93,053, Portland 90,267,
Augusta 32,889 and Ellsworth 46,999.
State figures show that 64 percent of those enrolled in needle
exchange programs are male and 36 percent female. The number of
enrollees has increased at least since 2009.
Dr. Caroline Teschke, program manager for clinical services at
Portland's India Street clinic where an exchange program is run,
said funding has all but disappeared for needle exchanges in the
city, but she's determined to keep it going because of the public
health impact. In the past the program has cost $10,000-$12,000
per year, she said.
"This is a program that runs on an absolute shoestring," said
Teschke. "For every case of HIV or hepatitis C (prevented), it
saves about $375,000. For an absolute minimal amount of money, we
can have a huge public health impact."
No federal or state money is used for needle exchange programs.
Congress on Dec. 17 reinstated the federal ban on such programs,
and no state money has been involved, the state Department of
Health and Human Services says.
Markiewicz said the state monitors and certifies the programs to
make sure they meet requirements for health and safety and data
Teschke acknowledged that needle exchange programs "are not
popular because people don't like to do nice things for people
who use drugs." But she said people should consider the
cost-effectiveness of the programs.
"The health of the community depends on the health of the poor
and marginalized," she said.
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that
as of 2004, injection drug use accounted for about one-fifth of
all HIV infections and most hepatitis C infections in the United
Injection drug users become infected and transmit the viruses to
others through shared contaminated syringes and high-risk sexual
behaviors, the CDC said.