At the state level, HEAL engages the Maine Legislature, state departments, and statewide advocacy issues that affect our communities and others living at the margins of society.
Two major legislative accomplishments—increased access in rural Maine to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure (PEP) and decriminalization of syringes and other safer use supplies—will have dramatic and significant positive impact to our clients and participants.
LD 994 | Ch. 434
An Act To Promote Public Health by Eliminating Criminal Penalties for Possession of Hypodermic Apparatuses
Sponsor: Rep. Genevieve McDonald, Stonington | 130th Maine Legislature, First Special Session
Access to new, sterile syringe apparatuses and other safer use supplies is critical to individual, population, and community health, as well as honoring the dignity and autonomy of people who use drugs. When access to safety is criminalized, our community is less safe and less healthy.
Sponsored by Rep. Genevieve McDonald and supported by dozens of organizations, including Health Equity Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Maine Access Points, Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, and the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College, this lifesaving legislation, driven and prioritized by individuals who currently use drugs, decriminalizes possession of syringe apparatuses, no longer constitutes residue in a syringe or other safer use device as possession, and decriminalizes fentanyl testing strips. The law decriminalizes all drug paraphernalia, and in short, decriminalizes safety.
“So, why is this all important? As you have heard, possession of sterile syringes is still criminalized in Maine—even when someone is a registered participant of an [syringe service program]. These services are Maine CDC-certified, supported and promoted by the Maine Office of Opioid Response’s 2021 Strategic Action Plan, and even participants face criminal penalties,” said Whitney Parrish, HEAL’s former policy director in legislative testimony.
[…] Our participants are harassed, have their sterile syringes confiscated, and they can face up to 364 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine for possessing merely 11 syringes or more at a time. Eleven syringes will not get most people through the day. Even giving a syringe to a friend because you want to make sure the person you care about doesn’t contract a soft tissue infection, endocarditis, or any of the diseases you’ve heard about today is a crime. Increased police contact and threat of incarceration has not and will not stop drug use if that is the goal."
Effective October 18, 2021, all safer use supplies in Maine will no longer be criminalized, helping keep our community members who use drugs in more stable situations and connected to supportive services instead of being churned through Maine’s overtaxed county jails. Health Equity Alliance is proud to work on solutions that enhance the health, safety, and support of some of Maine’s most marginalized and mistreated residents, while working on the root issues that cause instability and disconnection in the first place.