Frederick County Considering Needle Exchange Program

Health officials say it will help reduce the spread of AIDS & Hepatitis C.

Frederick, Md (KM). A needle exchange program is being considered by the Frederick County Health Department. Health Officer Dr. Barbara Bookmyer calls it a syringe services program, which would provide clean needles to heroin addicts. “Syringe services program as we’re currently envisioning it would have a heavy emphasis on bridging substances users to treatment and other needed services, at the same time as working to prevent the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C,” she says.

Frederick County is one of six counties either considering a syringe services program, or is in the process of putting one together,. The others counties are Washington, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Dorchester Counties.

Dr. Brookmyer says right now, Frederick County is only in the thinking stage, and no decision has been made on whether to put together a syringe services programs, or what kind to set up. “I expect this will be an ongoing and evolving process as we continue to get feedback from the parent advocacy community, the general community and others throughout the community, whether it’s law enforcement, elected officials,” she says.

There are opponents who say,  instead of encouraging them to get into treatment and recovery, these programs only encourage addicts to continue shooting up drugs because the county is providing clean needles to replace dirty ones. But Dr. Brookmyer disputes that. “There’s good research that indicates that syringe services programs do not increase drug abuse or crime. And that the syringe services programs are effective bridges to get substance users into treatment and other needed services, ” she responds.

“But we understand though that it’s a sensitive topic in the community, and that’s why,  unlike many other programs where we immediately get a grant and start the program, this one we’re actually exploring the feasibility,” says Dr. Brookmyer.

There has been a growing acceptance of needle exchange programs. Baltimore city has had such a program since 1994, which relies on mobile units providing services in 16 locations around the city 26 times per week. The Maryland General Assembly in 2016 passed legislation allowing syringe services programs to be established in other parts of the state.That same year, Congress passed legislation providing for federal funding for needle exchange efforts.

Dr. Brookmeyer also points out that Governor Larry Hogan has a declared a state of emergency to address the heroin epidemic. “We are currently operating under the Governor’s declared state of emergency, and all constructive efforts to address the crisis must be pursued,” she says. .


By Kevin McManus