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Thurmont considers syringe service program

Danielle Ryan

(3/1) Jessica Ellis, representing the Behavioral Health Services division of the Frederick County Health Department, proposed a syringe service program, which would allow drug users to exchange used/dirty needles for new, clean ones free of charge, to the Thurmont Board of Commissioners in February. Thurmont, which already has an Addiction Commission actively set in place, has been battling the opioid crisis in the community, and this program may provide another avenue to help combat the issue.

Last year, Frederick County was awarded a $23,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Health to explore a harm reduction feasibility study, specifically a syringe service program in the county, and Ellis hopes to bring this program to Thurmont. As presented, the syringe service program would provide an avenue for drug users to exchange needles, but also provide information, resources and overdose trainings. The overdose response training has already been successfully implemented in the County, and is a free service to anyone in the community. The next step is to provide the syringe exchange portion of the program.

Ellis has conducted comparative research in other areas of Maryland, including Baltimore, and noted that by utilizing a needle exchange program, other localities have seen an increase in people seeking drug treatment, have seen a reduction in crime, and also a decrease in new diagnoses of HIV and hepatitis C. The syringe service program would allow drug users the opportunity to access information on recovery and detox services available to them. It provides an avenue for those suffering from addiction to build trust and hopefully, gain valuable resources to assist in a future recovery.

The program would be run by trained Health Department professionals, but permission would need to be granted by the town to use a space in a town building or parking space for a mobile unity. The syringe exchange service would be held once a week for approximately two or three hours.

Commissioners Wes Hamrick and Martin Burns seemed on board with the program but Commissioner Buehrer was completely opposed, citing this program as an "oxymoron." In 2012, an ordinance was passed which placed a ban on synthetic drugs, including their possession, use or sale. Buehrer believes itís contradictory to now provide syringes to drug users; free of charge nonetheless. When Buehrer questioned Ellis about the possibility of elderly or non-users of illegal drugs having access to these syringes, he was disappointed with their response delegating a screening process. An individual who would participate in the program would be screened to see if they had the financial means to purchase or dispose of syringes.

Members of the public, Police Department, and members of the Thurmont Addiction Commission were also present during the meeting. Some residents spoke up in favor of the program, noting that it could be a start to helping those struggling with addiction in the community. In accompaniment with the Addiction Commission, it may be a good way to provide resources to anyone who may need them.

No official decision was made during the meeting, but the Addiction Commission will be meeting, discussing and providing a recommendation to the Board during a future meeting.

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