Four months ago, the New York Times published a startling article on the sharp increase in heroin use across New England and the tragic consequences that have accompanied it.  Last year, heroin killed 21 Mainers, three times as many as 2011.  Across the state, many more are battling their addiction, at risk of transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV (in 2009, nearly a third of Maine women living with HIV reported injecting drugs) and hepatitis C and facing criminal sanctions and the many consequences of contact with our criminal justice system. This is a tragic public health problem with tremendous human cost. As we look for ways to reduce the harms of substance abuse across our region, it is of the utmost importance that we reach for thoughtful and compassionate health based solutions that protect individuals and our communities.

An incredibly important resource in harm reduction efforts are syringe exchange programs. Syringe exchanges play a vital role in the health and well-being of Maine residents by helping to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and by connecting people to much needed community services programs, treatment and education. Since 2009, Maine’s five syringe exchange programs have safely disposed of nearly 400,000 used syringes - that might have otherwise been left in parks and public spaces.  In 2012 alone, 400 Mainers were referred to substance abuse treatment by the state’s syringe exchange programs and many more were connected to other much needed community resources. For every $1 invested in these programs, communities save $3 - $7 on HIV treatment costs alone.

Despite these very real benefits, there is an ideological ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs. Maine’s syringe access programs are already significantly underfunded, and as this problem becomes increasingly acute, more and more Mainers will be unable to access these lifesaving services. However Senator Collins can help. On July 19th the ACLU of Maine sent a letter to Senator Collins urging her to use her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs during the FY14 appropriations process. Lifting this ban will not cost the federal government anything – it will simply mean that communities will be free to allocate existing HIV prevention funds as they best see fit.

Senator Collins has heard from us, now she needs to hear from you.  Lifting the ban on federal funding on syringe exchange not only makes better fiscal sense, but will also reduce the spread of disease through intravenous drug use and save lives. It is important that we take action now to fund these vital programs.  Please click here to take action to stop the ideological ban on funding for syringe exchanges and ensure that Mainers have access to these lifesaving services.